Waters Corporation: Fifty Years of Innovation in Analysis and Purification

A publicity photo for Waters Associates organic synthesis marketing program taken in Robert Burns Woodward's chromatography lab, 1973. Pictured are (from left to right) Helmut Hamburger, Josef F. K. Huber, James Waters, and Woodward, in front of the ALC-100 Analytical Liquid Chromatograph at right.

A publicity photo for Waters Associates organic synthesis marketing program taken in Robert Burns Woodward's chromatography lab, 1973. Pictured are (from left to right) Helmut Hamburger, Josef F. K. Huber, James Waters, and Woodward, in front of the ALC-100 Analytical Liquid Chromatograph at right.

James Waters sold his company to Millipore in 1980, thereby ending his relationship with Waters Associates. Millipore, in turn, divested the Waters Division in 1994. Waters Corporation became a publicly traded company again in 1995. A year later new high-purity silica Symmetry HPLC columns, Alliance HPLC systems, and patented Oasis polymers raised the respective bars for column, flow rate, and SPE reproducibility to amazingly high levels. Also in 1996, Waters morphed from a minor player to a major leader in mass spectrometry by acquiring Micromass Ltd., of Manchester, England.

Several times in the past 50 years Waters has introduced equipment designed expressly to operate new column technology, creating a dramatic increase in separation power with the potential to alter the course of science. The most recent of these system innovations, introduced in 2004, has pushed the limits of separation science from high to ultra performance and was inspired by investigations into materials science. Zhiping Jiang and his team won awards for the first generation of hybrid-particle technology (HPT) packings, polymerizing a pair of monomers (tetraethoxysilane and triethoxymethylsilane) so that organic functionality may be distributed throughout a spherical silica particle’s backbone. HPT offered, for the first time, the possibility of designing tailored particle surfaces, even deep within micropores. By incorporating an ethylene bridge into one of the comonomers, Kevin Wyndham and his team were able to make 1.7-µm particles with an order-of-magnitude-higher resistance to hydrolysis at pH extremes and surprisingly high pressure resistance. This latter discovery, in turn, inspired Waters Corporation engineers to design the Acquity UltraPerformance LC System, capable of operating at 15,000 psi. Its dramatic order-of-magnitude increases in speed, sensitivity, and resolution herald the dawn of a new era in separation science.

A Legacy of Innovation

Although published contributions from academia are often placed in the limelight, so many of the important achievements in chromatography have been made almost invisibly by industrial scientists and engineers. Crossing the boundaries of physics, chemistry, mathematics, and engineering, separation science has been perfectly mated to the interdisciplinary teamwork vital to entrepreneurial endeavors that are focused on uniting resources to solve problems and create products that meet customers’ needs. James Waters exercised his inborn drive to succeed and, through his enterprises, brought these forces together to create revolutionary tools for analysis and purification.

As Waters Corporation approaches its golden jubilee, Waters and the company he started can take pride in the legacy of innovation and vision its first 50 years will leave. Although nearly 30 years have passed since James Waters sold his company, his name remains over the door, and the company continues to follow his simple formula for success: “innovation, a good attitude, and hard work”.

Patrick McDonald is a senior fellow in Chemistry Operations at Waters Corporation. This article has been adapted from his story “James Waters and His Liquid Chromatography People: A Personal Perspective” (search for WA62008 on www.waters.com) with supplemental material from private conversations between McDonald and Waters and other long-time colleagues and an oral history interview conducted with CHF in August 2002.