Co-Founder of J&W Scientific, Gas Chromatography Pioneer Walter Jennings Dies 

 Walter G. Jennings Walter G. Jennings, who helped expand the use and effectiveness of gas chromatography columns, and who joined Agilent in 2001, died July 5 at his home in El Dorado Hills, Calif. He was 90.

Walt co-founded J&W Scientific, a manufacturer of capillary GC columns. The company innovated column technology, developing chemically bonded stationary phases, improving deactivation and developing a range of phases that are now industry standards. Agilent acquired J&W Scientific in 2001, and still sells the products using the J&W name, along with an image of Walt on the packaging.

“We are saddened by Walt’s passing, but we were blessed to have worked with him over so many years,” said Helen Stimson, vice president and general manager, Agilent’s Chemistries and Supplies Division. “Walt was a great scientist, lecturer, mentor, host and friend. We are exploring some opportunities for scientific awards in his name, but perhaps our most important tribute will be to continue scientific development, world-class manufacturing and superior technical support on the J&W columns that are his legacy.”

An Advocate and Innovator

As a Professor of Food Science and Technology at the University of California at Davis, Walt advocated for gas chromatography as a practical tool for solving many problems in a wide range of scientific areas. His achievements include innovations in column and phase technology, CO2 extraction, inlet liner technology, and ferrule technology. With support from the USDA, he built the first gas chromatograph at the University of California at Davis in 1955.

Walt initially researched chemical sanitation efficiency and kinetics associated with food processing equipment, but his interest in flavor chemistry became a driving force to develop new technologies to unravel the chemical composition of flavor. He quickly came to understand the role that gas chromatography could play in this research, and his team successfully identified the critical flavor components in the Bartlett Pear, a significant accomplishment in 1965.

He was a productive researcher, with more than 200 publications in the field of gas chromatography, including eight books and several book chapters. His Gas Chromatography with Glass Capillary Columns, Academic Press, 1978, and Analytical Gas Chromatography, Academic Press, 1997, are considered classics in the field. He and his students made significant contributions in flavor chemistry, coupling capillary GC and MS, selectivity tuning in capillary columns by phase blending, computer modeling of optimum and practical gas velocities and the achievement of ultrahigh resolution (2,000,000 theoretical plates at 4000 plates per second!) with recycle chromatography.

During a visit to Europe in the late 1960s, Walt saw glass capillary chromatography in action and instantly realized its potential. On his way home from Europe he made a side trip to purchase one of the earliest glass-drawing machines. Walt’s team in Davis then began drawing tubing and developing excellence in capillary gas chromatography and column making.

The Early Years

Walt was born in Sioux City, Iowa with a lifelong inclination toward anything mechanical -- especially fast cars, a fascination that stayed with him his entire life. (Walt was known to pull, rebuild and replace the engine from his car in a single weekend in a quest for better performance.)

Returning home to Glendale, Calif., after serving in World War II, Walt followed the advice of relatives who owned a dairy in southern California and used the GI Bill to finance an education in dairy science. This educational path led him to the University of California at Davis where the degree in Dairy Science, fueled by his passion for food chemistry, turned into a 38-year career, with an undergraduate, master’s and Ph.D. degree and climbed the academic ladder becoming emeritus Professor in 1989.

Sharing his Knowledge

Walt became a highly sought after lecturer and he traveled around the United States giving lectures on the advantages and practical aspects of capillary gas chromatography. In some years Walt delivered more than 30 lectures and mini-workshops at leading chemical companies, symposia, research centers and universities. He enjoyed these activities immensely and his lecture style and enthusiasm for the field captivated audiences of analytical scientists. Walt continued lecturing, albeit at a reduced pace, well into his 80s.

Walt earned many awards for his contributions to gas chromatography. Notable among these were The Humboldt Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation; The Founders Award in Gas Chromatography from the Beckman Foundation; The M.J.E. Golay Award from the International Symposium on Capillary Chromatography; the Keene P. Dimick Award from the Pittsburgh Conference; the A.J.P. Martin Gold Medal from the Chromatographic Society; and the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award from LCGC.

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