Remembering the late Jim Waters and his pioneering instrumental legacy

By: Dr Tony Edge, President of The Chromatographic Society and Dr. Christopher Bevan, former President of The Chromatographic Society

It is with great sadness that The Chromatographic Society heard the news on 17th May announcing the passing of one of the great founding fathers of separation science, Jim Waters. Jim was born Oct. 7, 1925 in Nebraska, but moved across the US due to a career opportunity for his father to Framingham, Massachusetts. Jim would later launch his namesake company Waters Associates in 1958 in the basement of the Framingham Police Department. The company went on to be a world leader in separation science and has always been associated with innovating separation science, an ethos that was instilled in the organisation by Jim. There are many examples of ground breaking technology that Waters have developed, from GPC instrumentation and the introduction of UPLC instrumentation, to hybrid stationary phases that are stable at high pH. All of these advances have led to the multibillion-dollar organisation that supports many separation scientists address the challenges that laboratories around the world face. It also requires a true leader and an individual with the ability to take ideas and make them a commercial success, and it was evident from the early days that Jim had a winning formula for this.

Jim was awarded The Chromatographic Society’s Martin medal in 2006, awarded to him by the then President, Dr Christopher Bevan. We contacted Chris about meeting the great man and he was kind enough to respond with the following reflections on Jim.

“It is quite common to think of one’s first car when reminiscing about the past.  Many will have had a Ford model of some description and many people will associate the name Henry Ford with the birth of the modern motor car and mass production.  Separation scientists when reminiscing will think of their first HPLC PUMP and the birth of this powerful liquid chromatographic analytical technique.

As a “mature” separation scientist, I associate the early days of HPLC in the 1970s with the WATERS Associates M6000 & its successor M45 solvent delivery systems.  To me these will always be the instrumental brain-children of Jim Waters, the “Henry Ford” pioneer of HPLC systems.

Whilst working as an analyst for Hoechst UK in the late 1970s, the Waters liquid chromatography systems were the day-to-day tools of my trade; and powerful tools they were indeed for their vintage.

Automation of HPLC separations were carried out to enable the many samples to be processed in attended and unattended modes again using WATERS instrumentation such as the manual U6K injector and its automated cousin the WATERS WISP. Waters also made some of the first columns that I used and I developed many separations on C18 micro-Bondapak column packings.

Despite being very familiar with my WATERS instrumental lab mates, I didn’t get to personally meet their engineering physicist inventor, Jim Waters, until 2006.  2006 was a very special year for the The Chromatographic Society as it marked their golden jubilee (50 years since its inception in 1956).  I helped organise a series of symposia (the ‘Triad’ series) to celebrate the golden anniversary and I researched how to mark the event.  Waters Associates had almost reached their golden anniversary (actually in 2008) and it seemed fitting to invite their founder, Jim Waters, over to the UK from his home in Milford USA to share the celebrations.  The Society also wanted to mark and publicise Jim’s massive pioneering achievements in liquid chromatography by awarding him their highest award, The A.J.P Martin Gold medal.

I have found that being heavily involved in analytical and preparative chromatography and organising many symposia over almost 50 years has been very rewarding. Perhaps the best part is meeting other scientists and learning from them and helping to pass on the knowledge gained.

I had the privilege of inviting and hosting Jim Waters and his wife Faith to present him with the Martin medal and to entertain them at a celebratory dinner at GSK labs Stevenage to mark the golden anniversary.  I certainly was not disappointed to meet a man full of genuine humility and generosity.  He gave us a most interesting lecture on the history of Waters Associates from his personal perspective.”

The Chromatographic Society mourns the loss of a true innovator in separation science. He lived his mantra to ‘deliver benefit’ and the separation community is less for his passing. Our sincere sympathies go out to his wife of over 70 years, Faith Pigor, Waters, as well as the rest of his family, friends, and many colleagues.