Elected F.R.S. 1950
We judge the worth of a scientist by the benefits he or she brings to science and society; by this measure Archer Martin was outstanding, and rightfully his contribution was recognized with a Nobel Prize. Scientific instruments and instrumental methods now come almost entirely from commercial sources and we take them for granted and often have little idea how they work. Archer Martin was of a different time when scientists would often devise their own new instruments, which usually they fully understood, and then they would use them to explore the world. The chromatographic methods and instruments Martin devised were at least as crucial in the genesis and development of molecular biology as were those from X–ray crystallography. Liquid partition chromatography, especially in its two–dimensional paper form, revealed the amino acid composition of proteins and the nucleic acid composition of DNA and RNA with a rapid and elegant facility. Gas chromatography (GC) enabled the accurate and rapid analysis of lipids, which previously had been painfully slow and little more than a greasy sticky confusion of beaker chemistry. Martin's instruments enabled progress in the sciences ranging from geophysics to biology, and without him we might have waited decades before another equivalent genius appeared. More than this, the environmental awareness that Rachel Carson gave us would never have solidified as it did without the evidence of global change measured by GC. This instrumental method provided accurate evidence about the ubiquity of pesticides and pollutants and later made us aware of the growing accumulation in the atmosphere of chlorinated fluorocarbons, nitrous oxide and other ozone-depleting chemicals.If all this were not enough to glorify Martin's partition chromatography, there is the undoubted fact that its simplicity, economy and exquisite resolving power transformed the chemical industry and made possible so many of the conveniences we now take for granted.