Professor Bohuslav Gaš Awarded Arnold O. Beckman Medal
First of all, please accept our congratulations on this prestigious recognition of your work. Can you say a few words about your career in the field of electrophoresis for which you have been awarded this esteemed medal?
Thank you for your congratulations! Yes, I have devoted a long part of my life to a separation technique known as electrophoresis - its roots date back to the early 19th century when researchers noticed that the application of a constant electric field caused clay particles dispersed in water to migrate. This electrokinetic phenomenon was named electrophoresis. In 1897 Friedrich Kohlrausch (1840 - 1910) wrote the first and, at the same time, groundbreaking article to provide a mathematical theory to this phenomenon. The article became one of the driving forces behind further development of this technique. For example, in 1948 Arne Tiselius (1902 - 1971) from Sweden won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for electrophoresis of blood serum proteins. In the 1980s capillary electrophoresis was used for the first human genome sequencing in the Human Genome Project, a three-billion-dollar initiative. These days e.g. pharmaceutical companies use both electrophoresis and chromatography, a related separation technique, to check the purity of their products.
How exactly did your career in this field of expertise start?
Electrophoresis found its place at our Faculty in the 1970s when my then tutor, Professor Jiří Vacík, teamed up with a group from Eindhoven, Netherlands led by Professor Frans Everaerts. Professor Everaerts worked on developing a special mode of electrophoresis called isotachophoresis. He was a wonderful man and a supporter of Czechoslovakia, and he made it possible for our students to join student exchange projects in the Netherlands, which, deep into communist times, certainly was not a usual thing. Professor Vacík set up an isotachophoresis group in Prague, too, and I - still a student then - joined his group and chose isotachophoresis as the subject of my master thesis. The core of that thesis involved solution of continuity equations, which, in electrophoresis, means partial differential equations.
How did you solve those equations?
Using a hybrid computer, a combination of digital and analogue features. At that time it was a completely new thing, and I was actually the first user. The computer was imported from the US and its use was supervised by the US Embassy! The reason was that the device was designed, among other purposes, to calculate ballistic missile trajectories. Analogue computers make use of an interesting fact: the voltage on a condenser is equal to the integral of the charging current. In practice this is done by means of an electronic circuit, an integrator, which is an operational amplifier with a condenser in the feedback. Integration is also the method used to solve differential equations. In 1975 I was the first in the world to have solved equations for isotachophoresis.
Did you continue this work at the Faculty?
No, I didn't. After one year in the army I continued working on my doctoral project, developing a high-frequency contactless conductivity detector for isotachophoresis. Then I left the Faculty for many years. I was involved in a number of other fields of research. I worked at the Research Institute for Organic Syntheses in Rybitví and later at the Institute of Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Vlašská St. In 1988, shortly before the completion of the Institute's new site in Ládví, I returned to our Faculty, i.e. to Professor Vacík and electrophoresis. My work then took two directions.
What exactly were those directions?
I adapted the high-frequency contactless conductivity detector so it could be used on thin silica capillaries. At one of the conferences I attended I was approached by Hewlett Packard (later Agilent that split from HP), and that started a fruitful cooperation that still continues. At the end of the day, they did not start manufacturing the detector that we had developed for them, but they granted us a licence to produce that device ourselves, and we have actually been producing it ever since. Agilent has funded several projects for us, and we have received a very generous donation from them that they call University Philanthropy Grant. We use this money e.g. to finance students' trips abroad.
And the other direction?
That was all about my engagement in electrophoresis theory. Our research group has developed two computer applications. One of them is Simul, a product designed to solve partial differential equations numerically. Another thing we have done is linearization of continuity equations and derivation of the Jacobian matrix of the system.
Have you taken also this theory as far as producing a computer application?
Yes, we have. Using this linear model, we have developed another family of applications called PeakMaster. Having simplified the calculation, we can get the solution within a fraction of a second and, using a computer, get a picture of what the real electrophoretic separation will look like. We posted this application to our website some time ago, as freeware, and it soon became highly popular. I daresay that perhaps every lab doing electrophoresis these days has downloaded and uses PeakMaster. One of the reasons why this application is so popular is that it is able to calculate the pH of electrolyte solutions with a high degree of accuracy. The application uses an extensive database of pK constants and mobilities developed by Takeshi Hirokawa, our long-time friend and colleague at the Hiroshima University.
These achievements are no doubt a result of teamwork.
Absolutely. Research is always about teamwork, and I should not fail to mention at least some of my excellent students and colleagues. My biggest thanks go to these four: Vlastimil Hruška of Agilent has developed Simul as we know and use it today. Milan Štědrý has developed the theory of so-called eigenmobilities, Michal Jaroš has developed PeakMaster and Martina Riesová has done a major portion of our experiments around electromigration oscillations. Plus there is a number of other students and colleagues who have substantially contributed and still contribute to the work done by the whole group.
I guess the widespread use of these two applications is the main reason why the Committee had nominated you for the Arnold O. Beckman Medal that you were then awarded for “lifelong outstanding achievements in the field of electro-driven separation techniques". What is this medal award process all about?
About a month before the 2016 MSB Conference in Niagara-on-the-Lake as part of which the medal ceremony took place, James Landers, one of the Committee members and a renowned electrophoresis expert, rang me to tell me that the Committee had nominated me for this medal. The conference programme does not say who is going to deliver the plenary presentation that comes with the medal award ceremony - the name is kept secret, so my name actually appeared as late as the evening before the official conference opening, during the welcome get-together. The conference guests, many of whom I know personally, then started offering their spontaneous congratulations to me.
How many times has this award been granted?
Only five times so far. When I see the big names who won this award before me, I am really proud to be in such company. The award ceremony was preceded by a laudatio made by James Landers, the scientist I have already mentioned here, and the medal was officially handed over by Jeff Chapman of SCIEX. I delivered the plenary presentation after receiving the award.
Big congratulations on behalf of the whole Faculty!
By Michal Andrle