Breaking into the Separations World
Making Sepax Technologies a commercial success was anything but straightforward, but – as they say – the customer is always right
Xueying Huang | | Longer Read
Following the end of the Great Cultural Revolution in 1976, China was a very poor country. My parents – who worked as farmers at the time – earned less than one US dollar each day. Fertilizers were essential to grow rice, but such chemicals were government-controlled and very difficult to buy. I watched my parents stand in never-ending lines from the early morning, only to return empty handed on a regular basis.
I decided that I would study chemistry so that I could produce my own fertilizer to improve life for my parents.
I arrived in the US with 60 dollars in my pocket (borrowed) in the summer of 1993 and joined Mary Wirth’s group at the University of Delaware as a graduate student. Mary asked me to study organic molecular diffusion and rotation on LC surface stationary phases, using laser spectroscopy to understand mechanisms of chromatographic separation at the molecular level. Thus began my career in chromatography.
In Chinese culture, even today, parents, teachers, and the government judge a person’s value based on obedience. In contrast, Mary encouraged me to adapt to Western culture, guiding me to fearlessly explore the unknown. Under her supervision, we pioneered the production of uniform polymer brushes on a solid surface with controlled chain length and density using atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP – a living polymerization reaction that controls the length and molecular weight distribution of polymer chains) in 1996. By applying this surface technology to silica gel or polymer beads, we produced completely new stationary phases – and opened the door to a new field now followed by many groups.
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