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Often called the father of pseudophase separations, Daniel W. Armstrong is well known for developing ways to separate chiral compounds. He is also credited with pioneering the use of ionic liquids in chromatography and popularizing the use of separation methods to measure binding constants of molecular species in solution. He is being honored for contributing widely to the field of analytical separations.
“Few scientists have had a greater impact on the advancement of chemical analysis,” says Krishnan Rajeshwar, an electrochemist at the University of Texas, Arlington. “Even fewer have had the results of their research extend to so many different scientific, technological, and chemical disciplines.”
Armstrong, 64, is the Robert A. Welch Chair in Chemistry at UT Arlington. He has developed more than 30 different columns for high-performance liquid chromatography and gas chromatography that are now commercialized. His series of macrocyclic antibiotic columns “are the single most prominently used means to analyze and separate amino acids and their enantiomers,” Rajeshwar says. “One of his chiral GC columns was selected for a soft-landing mission to a comet for the analysis of organic molecules in ices, and his Chiraldex series of GC columns are the most broadly applicable means to analyze volatile enantiomers,” Rajeshwar adds.
Throughout his career, Armstrong has focused on understanding the fundamental interactions of molecules, particularly isomers, with surfaces, aggregates, and macrocyclic molecules. His groundbreaking 1986 paper in Science on modeling small-molecule interactions (DOI: 10.1126/science.3704640) “described in detail the mechanism of chiral recognition by cyclodextrins in aqueous and hydroorganic solvents,” Rajeshwar says.
Armstrong says his work is “interesting, often gratifying, fun, and has the real possibility of making a contribution to society.” Indeed, his research has already made an impact. His work on chiral separations helped induce the Food & Drug Administration to change its guidelines for chiral drug development in 1992.
Armstrong’s work has “opened several new directions in analytical separations,” says Janusz Pawliszyn, an analytical chemist at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario. He is “continuously looking for new opportunities in diverse areas of bioanalytical separations, pursuing challenging but interesting and scientifically promising areas.”
One example is his use of high-efficiency capillary electrophoresis and microfluidic separations to analyze intact bacteria and other microorganisms for characterization of infections and rapid determination of sample sterility. “Since he inaugurated this important area of research in 1999, it has rapidly expanded to other groups worldwide,” Pawliszyn notes.
Armstrong is a dedicated mentor and teacher who has trained more than 170 students, postdocs, and visiting scientists. “He always remained available for advice and instruction and never hesitated laying his own work aside when asked for help or advice,” says one of his former students, Timothy J. Ward, who is now a chemistry professor and associate dean of sciences at Millsaps College, in Mississippi.
He also used his “ability as a dynamic speaker and exceptional teacher” to inspire the community at large, Ward points out. Armstrong originated and hosted the public radio show “We’re Science.”
He will present his award address before the Division of Industrial & Engineering Chemistry.