Dr Richard Laurence Millington Synge looking at some paper in a lab

Source: © Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Richard Synge’s partition chromatography was instrumental in the sequencing of proteins and 

The 1952 Nobel prize in chemistry medal awarded to British biochemist Richard Synge for his groundbreaking invention of partition chromatography more than a decade earlier will be auctioned off at the end of May.

Partition chromatography can separate chemicals distributed between two liquid phases and it transformed the emerging field of molecular biology in the second half of the 20th century. It was used to demonstrate that purines from DNA were present in the same ratio as their pyrimidine partner, providing important information that helped in the elucidation of the molecule’s structure. The technique also allowed the separation and subsequent sequencing of insulin, an achievement that resulted in Frederick Sanger winning the chemistry Nobel Prize in 1958, which later led to a treatment for diabetes.

The Nobel prize medal awarded to British chemist Archer Martin, who invented partition chromatography along with Synge, was recently auctioned. It sold for £150,000 to a private collector in Europe in February 2023.

A nobel prize medal in its box

Source: © Nate D. Sanders Auctions

Richard Synge’s Nobel medal is 23-carat gold. More recent Nobel prize medals are 18-carat gold plated with 24-carat gold

Other chemistry Nobel prize medals that have recently been sold include German chemist Adolf von Baeyer’s 1905 award, which recognised his work on organic dyes and hydroaromatic compounds, fetched £203,000 in December 2023, and in the same week Arne Tiselius’ medal, won by the Swedish biochemist in 1948 for his electrophoresis research, sold for $125,000 (£98,000). Earlier that year, George Olah’s Nobel medal, awarded in 1994 for his work on carbocations, sold at auction for $250,000 and Walter Kohn’s award for the development of density functional theory sold in 2022 for nearly $460,000.

Synge’s medal, which is made of 23-carat gold, will be auctioned by Nate Sanders on 30 May. It is accompanied by a red leather Nobel presentation case with his name tooled on the lid. The reserve price for the medal has been set at $150,000.

Update: The medal sold at auction for $187,500.