Richard Laurence Millington Synge

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Liverpool, England
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Liverpool, England

Richard Laurence Millington or Richard L. M. Synge Synge was an English biochemist who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for developing a method for separating the contents of a mixture of chemical substances using a procedure called liquid-liquid partition chromatography, which also involved paper chromatography. He split the prize with Archer John Porter Martin, an English scientist who worked with him to develop the technique. He worked at several institutes throughout his life and dedicated his entire career in research. Both academia and industry praised the discovery of the liquid-liquid paper-partition chromatography technique because it provided a new approach to separate a substance into its constituent elements in a purely and clean manner that had previously been unattainable. Synge had an excellent memory, spoke Russian, German, and Swedish well, and was extremely well ordered in his daily life. He had a mastery of financial affairs as the son of a stockbroker and was tough about audits and accounts, always politely demanding accuracy in everything. He was well-versed in the railway system and train schedules. During his time in Cambridge, he was exposed to anti-war and anti-fascist groups, which influenced him greatly throughout his life.

Childhood and Adolescence

Richard L. M. Synge was born on October 28, 1914, in Liverpool, England. Laurence Millington Synge was a stockbroker, and Katharine Charlotte Swan was his mother. Anthea was his sister’s name.

He received his early education at Wellington’s ‘Old Hall’ prep school.
In 1928, he enrolled at the ‘Winchester College’ in Winchester, England, where he primarily studied classics until 1931. He then switched to natural sciences and continued to study science courses until 1933. From here, he received a ‘Classics Scholarship’ to study natural sciences at Trinity College.

In 1933, he enrolled in the ‘Trinity College’ of the ‘Cambridge University,’ where he studied physics, chemistry, and physiology for the ‘Natural Sciences Tripos’ Part I from 1933 to 1935, and then biochemistry for the part II portion from 1936 to 1938.

He was admitted as a research student after receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1935 and his master’s degree in 1936 with a double First.

He worked as a research student at Sir Fredrick G. Hopkins’ ‘University Biochemical Laboratory’ from 1936 to 1939, under the guidance of N. W. Pirie. In 1941, he received his PhD from ‘Trinity College.’

From 1939 to 1943, Richard L. M. Synge worked for the ‘Wool Industries Research Association’ as part of the ‘British Textile Technology Group.’ There he met Archer J. P. Martin, who was already attempting to construct a chromatographic equipment.

Synge and Martin collaborated on the development of a process for isolating the elements of closely similar molecules, such as amino acids, so that they could be investigated further.

On June 7, 1941, Synge and Martin presented their results to the ‘Biochemical Society’ at the ‘National Institute for Medical Research’ in London.
Synge and Martin were particularly successful in developing the paper-chromatography technique, which Synge eventually utilized to determine the exact structure of a molecule of the protein “gramicidin S.” Fredrick Sanger, an English biochemist, later utilized this technique to discover the structure of insulin.

In 1943, he joined the ‘Biochemistry Department’ of the ‘Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine, London,’ where he worked mainly on antibiotic peptides of the ‘gramicidin group’ under W. T. J. Morgan until 1948.
During 1946-1947, he spent eight months in Uppsala working with Professor Tiselius on the application of adsorption methods to the aforementioned chemicals.

He worked as the Head of the ‘Department of Protein Chemistry’ at the ‘Rowett Research Institute’ in Bucksburn, Aberdeen, from 1948 until 1958. He focused on animal protein digestion, related microorganisms, proteins, peptides, and other components here.

He worked on the ‘electrokinetic ultrafiltartion’ of various ‘polysaccharides’ with A. Tiselius and D. L. Mould in 1950.
In 1952, he was appointed treasurer of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s ‘Chemical Information Group.’

From 1958 to 1959, he worked on the separation of the deadly fungal component of’sporidesmin’ with E.P. White at the ‘Ruakura Animal Research Station’ in Hamilton, New Zealand.

In 1959, he returned to the ‘Rowett Research Institute,’ where he remained until 1967.
From 1967 to 1976, he worked as a scientist at the ‘Institute of Food Research’ in Norwich.
From 1968 through 1984, he worked as a ‘Professor of Biological Sciences’ at the ‘University of Anglia.’

Major Projects of Richard Laurence Millington Synge

The results of Synge and Martin’s work on paper-partition chromatography were reported in the ‘Biochemical Journal’ in 1941.
In 1941, he co-authored a book with Archer Martin called “Separation of Higher Monoamino-Acids by Counter-Current Liquid-liquid Extraction: The Amino-Acid Composition of Wool.”

Achievements & Awards

In 1950, Richard L. M. Synge was inducted into the ‘Royal Society.’
In 1952, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
In 1959, he was awarded the ‘John Price Wetherill Medal.’

In 1963, he was elected to the ‘Royal Society of Edinburgh.’
The ‘American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’ designated him as a ‘Foreign Member.’
From 1968 to 1984, he was an honorary professor of biological sciences at the ‘University of Anglia.’

Personal History and Legacy

In 1943, he married Ann Stephen, and they had four daughters: Jane, Elizabeth, Charlotte, and Mary, as well as three sons: Matthew Millington, Patrick Millington, and Alexander Millington.
In his later years, he suffered from gout, temporal arteritis, and myelodysplasia.
Richard L. M. Synge died on August 18, 1994, in Norwich, Norfolk, England.

Work in the Humanitarian Sector

From his early days at Cambridge University, Richard L. M. Synge was a peace campaigner and an advocate of nuclear disarmament. During the ‘Pugwash Peace Conference’ in Warsaw, Poland, in 1982, he signed the ‘Pugwash Declaration.’ He was fascinated with Hiroshima and Nagasaki and could never forgive Henry Truman or the United States for producing and employing the atomic bomb. In all of his peace attempts, he was ably backed by his wife.

Estimated Wet Worth

Estimated Net Worth of Richard Laurence Millington Synge is unknown.


Richard L. M. Synge enjoyed traveling by train and contributed articles to rail enthusiast journals on occasion.
Margaret Roberts, who later became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was one of his lab assistants at the ‘Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine.’

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