Pursuing the Preparative
Sitting Down With Georges Guiochon, Professor and Distinguished Scientist of Analytical Chemistry at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Richard Gallagher |
How did you become an analytical chemist?
It’s a strange story. In 1955, after I had graduated with an MS degree in engineering, a professor at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris offered me a teaching assistant position. I was assigned to study the instability of ammonium nitrate, which had caused several disastrous explosions. About a year into the project, we were visited by a man who was received with respect by the professor. He told us that he thought the hoists on the boats unloading bags of ammonium nitrate were somehow catalyzing the transmutation of nitrogen into CO, and wanted us to study it. When he left I told my boss that it was a crazy idea. “You are right,” he said, “but he is the son-in-law of the Prime Minister. You want a gas chromatograph to analyze the decomposition gasses of ammonium nitrate? Well, this is a way to get it!” He contacted the prime minister’s office – this was in 1956, when there was very little money for scientific research – and within two weeks we had a beautiful PerkinElmer chromatograph. A year later we submitted a report showing that no CO was formed in the decomposition of ammonium nitrate. This drew an irrascible phone call from the government office informing us that the prime minister had changed and they had no interest in it. End of story. But it got me started in gas chromatography.
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