By Martin Weil
Archer Martin, 92, the British biochemist who shared the 1952 Nobel Prize for inventing a technique that made it possible to separate and isolate the fundamental chemicals of which living creatures are composed, has died.
Dr. Martin had Alzheimer's disease. The date and location of his death were not announced.
The technique for which Dr. Martin and his colleague Richard Synge won the chemistry Nobel is called partition chromatography. It separates the components of a mixture based on the fact that each dissolves to a different extent in different liquids.
In their technique, one liquid moves relative to the other, and the components are deposited along the track of the motion.
Dr. Martin, the son of a doctor and a nurse, was born in London and was afflicted with dyslexia. He demonstrated scientific interest as a youngster. After cutting the bottoms from coffee cans, he soldered the cans together to build a distilling column in his basement similar to that used in oil refineries to extract gasoline from petroleum.
After graduating from Cambridge University in 1932 and receiving a doctorate four years later, he performed the work that was to win the Nobel Prize while employed by the Wool Industries Research Association. He and Synge aimed to find the structure and composition of proteins, chemicals that are important constituents of wool and basic to all living things.
World War II was on, Britain was beleaguered and resources were scarce, but Dr. Martin's ingenuity and experimental skill stood him in good stead, as the work on partition chromatography proved successful It was credited with making it possible to isolate the individual amino acids and nucleic acids which compose the molecules that are at the heart of modern biochemistry.
In his Nobel Prize address, delivered Dec. 12, 1952, in Stockholm, Dr. Martin included some of his own good-humored philosophy of science and laboratory practice. He described what he said was "Martin's principle of scientific research." It was this: "Nothing is too much trouble if somebody else does it ."
He also expressed the possibly heretical view that a scientist "should take a minimum of care and preparation over first experiments." The reason, he said, is that if they fail, "one is not then discouraged."
He also said that much can be learned by doing the experiment over, under different conditions. But, he said, if every precaution is taken and the experiment still fails, "one is often too discouraged to proceed at all."
He received many medals, prizes and awards, and his academic career included a professorship at the University of Houston from 1974 to 1979.
Dr. Martin also made news as one of the first volunteers for a trial of one of the earliest drugs to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease.
Initial reports printed almost 14 years ago indicated that Dr. Martin's experience with the drug, known as THA, tacrine or Cognex, had been highly successful.
A British newspaper quoted his wife as saying that Dr. Martin's deterioration "was considerably reduced, if not completely stopped."
According to the December 1988 story in the Daily Telegraph, Dr. Martin had been told four years earlier that he faced severe consequences as a result of the disease. His wife, Judith, arranged for him to participate in a study conducted in London of THA.
His wife said that after taking the drugs for three months he "was able to read a scientific journal again. He could achieve some reward from life and was much happier with his situation. His loss of memory because of the disease had caused him great frustration. He felt he was no use to anything or anyone any more."
More recent reports about tacrine and similar drugs have credited them with temporarily slowing the progression of symptoms in some Alzheimer's patients.
According to the reports, the drugs are not a cure, and their beneficial effects are not permanent.
He and his wife had five children.