Synge, Richard Laurence Millington (1914-1994) was a British biochemist who won the 1952 Nobel Prize in chemistry for the invention of partition chromatography. He shared the prize with Archer John Porter Martin, with whom he collaborated on the research.
Synge was born in Liverpool, England, in 1914. He attended Winchester College and in 1933 entered Cambridge University, where he studied physics, chemistry, and physiology, earning his undergraduate degree in 1936. From 1936 to 1939, he was a research assistant at the Cambridge Biochemical Laboratory, where he met Martin. Synge prepared his doctoral thesis on the separation of acetyl amino acids, and he received his doctorate from Cambridge in 1941.
In 1939, after receiving a scholarship from the International Wool Secretariat for his research on amino acids in wool, Synge accepted a position at the Wool Industries Research Association Laboratories in Leeds, England. With Martin, Synge worked to separate the various molecules that compose complex substances so that those molecules could be better studied. They developed a process that combined adsorption chromatography and countercurrent solvent extraction. The process worked by placing a complex mixture of molecules on one end of a strip of fine cellulose paper. That end would then be placed in a solution of either alcohol and water or chloroform and water. The liquids flowing through the paper would move the complex substance, and the molecules then separated, depending on their rate of adsorption by the paper and by their affinity for either of the two liquids. A series of spots remained on the paper, with the spots indicating which type of molecule was present. By the late 1940's, they improved the cellulose filter methods and developed two-dimensional chromatography. The technique has become an invaluable research tool and has been used in studying plant photosynthesis and DNA sequencing.