“We foster builders, not users.” That motto, found on Purnendu (Sandy) Dasgupta’s University of Texas, Arlington, Web page says a lot about the chemist and his research group. A jack-of-all-trades in the world of analytical chemistry, Dasgupta, 61, is being honored for his ingenuity and skills in building novel instrumentation to solve intractable environmental problems.
Best known for his work in ion chromatography (IC), Dasgupta holds patents on the electrodialytic devices that make sensitive conductivity detection possible in commercial IC systems. His inventions, both practical and theoretical, are “the cornerstones of modern, state-of-the-art ion chromatography,” says Daniel W. Armstrong, a chromatographer and colleague of Dasgupta’s at UT Arlington. Dasgupta is also responsible for numerous sample introduction and detection methods in capillary electrophoresis “that we take for granted today,” Armstrong notes.
Many of Dasgupta’s inventions came about because commercial instruments were incapable of making the difficult measurements he needed to solve environmental problems. His work on measuring perchlorate and arsenic in the environment has attracted worldwide attention. And he has made improvements in instrumentation for sampling and measuring sulfur dioxide, sulfate, hydrogen peroxide, ammonia, and formaldehyde, says Gary D. Christian, emeritus professor of chemistry at the University of Washington.
Dasgupta says he is gratified to see his peers give their seal of approval to his work, adding that the award confirms “that my playing in the sand and building sand castles has some value in other people’s eyes.” He considers himself more of an analytical chemist than a chromatographer—“someone who wants to find a solution to a particular problem with whatever tools and little knowledge he has at his disposal.”
A native of India, Dasgupta became interested in chemistry at an early age. His efforts during high school to make “artificial silk” in his home laboratory are particularly memorable, he says. The process, which involves dissolving cotton in concentrated ammonia containing copper sulfate and injecting that solution into acid, was taking too long. It was summer in India, and the ammonia was evaporating in the heat. So Dasgupta put his open beaker in the refrigerator.
All of the food that contained the yellow spice turmeric, an acid-base indicator, turned bright red because of the ammonia. “We were expecting guests that night, and all of the food had to be thrown out,” he recalls.
Dasgupta went on to earn a diploma as a television mechanic at DeVry Institute of Technology, Chicago—an experience that provided him with mechanical skills he still uses today. He was awarded a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry by Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, in 1977.
When he is not in the lab or working with his students, Dasgupta likes to listen to music and recite poetry. He once had dreams of making a living as a poet, but that has “fallen by the wayside.” Most of all, he loves to hear his wife, an accomplished vocalist, sing, he says. And he keeps hoping to beat the rest of his research group at the game Jenga.
Dasgupta will present the award address before the Divisions of Analytical Chemistry and Environmental Chemistry during the fall ACS national meeting.