Professor Peter Carr retires after over 45 years on Department of Chemistry faculty

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (2/7/2024) – Distinguished University Teaching Professor Peter Carr has retired from the Department of Chemistry after a 47 year career as a University of Minnesota faculty member. Over the course of his time at UMN, Carr was recognized as an innovator in analytical chemistry, a dedicated teacher, and a spirited mentor.

It all started with Sputnik

Carr came to the University of Minnesota in 1977, but his love for science and path to becoming a professional chemist was set in motion in the late 1950s.

“My career in chemistry is the result of two things: the launch of Sputnik in 1957 the year I was a high school freshman and a wonderful Saturday morning TV show called Watch Mr. Wizard created and hosted by Don Herbert on the NBC TV network,” Carr writes. “The launch of Sputnik initiated a huge increase in interest and support for science education. I greatly enjoyed my high school chemistry class and my Gilbert chemistry set which led me to consider a career in science.”

In 1961, he went on to attend Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn in New York, where the biggest research area in the Chemistry Department was polymer chemistry. Carr remarks that the work was quite rigorous for an undergraduate program. He was advised by Prof. Louis Meites, a well-known electroanalytical chemist, and scientific grandchild of UMN’s own Prof. Izaak Maurits (Piet) Kolthoff.

“Lou was an inspiring classroom teacher and great mentor. He inspired us all to work hard and do our best. He was such an incredibly supportive scholar and had such tremendous confidence in all of his students that we hated to disappoint him,” Carr writes. “I owe Lou a great deal for his wisdom both personal and scientific and his support. He strongly encouraged me to go to graduate school.”

Carr went on to attend The Pennsylvania State University for his graduate studies, where he was advised by Prof. Joseph Jordan, who was a postdoctoral researcher with Piet Kolthoff. After completion of his PhD in 1968, Carr pursued an analytical biochemistry postdoctoral research position at Stanford University Medical School. At Stanford he worked with Prof. David Glick in the Department of Pathology.

Research inspired by teaching

Carr moved back to the east coast for his first faculty appointment in 1969. He started his professorial career – and his journey to becoming an expert in chromatography – as an Assistant Professor at the University of Georgia (UGA). Carr writes that each analytical chemist at UGA was to choose an area of analytical chemistry to teach for a graduate-level course. Neither Carr nor his peers had much experience with chromatography, but they all recognized its importance. In the end, it was his teaching experiences that led Carr to discover his interest in chromatography, the subfield that he would ultimately become known for. 

Carr’s early research at UGA was focused on thermochemical methods of analysis, and bioanalytical chemistry including the determination of plasma and blood coagulation time used to control anti-coagulation drug therapy and the use of immobilized enzymes for clinical and environmental analysis. He was granted his first patent in 1974, for a novel blood coagulation timer he developed with his graduate student William Bostick. 

Advances in liquid chromatography

Upon his arrival in Minnesota, Carr sought out seven of the top Twin Cities researchers in chromatography including leading scientists from UMN, 3M, General Mills, Pillsbury and other local companies. Together the group started the Minnesota Chromatography Forum, of which Carr served as the first president. 

“It is still going strong – it’s considered to be one of the best organizations of its kind in the US,” Carr writes. “Our initial meeting was on St. Patrick's Day in 1978 at a bar called the "Improper Fraction" near the U of M.”

Over the course of his four decades at the University of Minnesota, Carr investigated a variety of areas of analytical chemistry including electrochemistry, ion selective electrodes, thermochemistry, immobilized enzymes, and chromatography. Some of his most cited, most collaborative, and most patented work relates to the chemistry of zirconia and its use in chromatography. Carr's inspiration to work with zirconia in a liquid chromatography context was sparked during the years he served as a consultant to 3M, from 1979-1990. Carr went on to develop a variety of zirconia-based technologies with his research group and collaborators at 3M. Fifteen of his 20 patents are related to zirconia; his success in this application of separation science led to the creation of ZirChrom Separations in 1995.

Under Carr – the founder and first president – ZirChrom Separations, Inc., manufactured a full line of zirconia-based high performance chromatographic stationary phases for the analysis of compounds primarily by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). The extreme stability of zirconia and its unique chromatographic selectivity allows for the optimization of separation conditions, which are totally incompatible with other types of supports. As with the more traditional HPLC supports, a wide variety of analyses may be performed including amino acids, peptides, proteins, nucleic acids (RNA and DNA), carbohydrates, pesticides, environmental samples, clinical samples and pharmaceuticals. Carr sold his interest in the company in 2001 - to his partners Clayton McNeff (Carr group PhD graduate) and Steven Rupp. ZirChrom is still active and will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year.

Carr’s distinction as a chemist has been recognized many times. His numerous awards include the Eastern Analytical Symposium (EAS) Award in the Fields of Analytical Chemistry (1993), the American Chemical Society Award in Chromatography (1997), the EAS Award for Outstanding Achievements in Separation Science of the (2000), the American Chemical Society Award in Analytical Chemistry (2009),  A.J.P. Martin Gold Medal of the Chromatographic Society, United Kingdom (2010), and the LCGC Lifetime Achievement Award (2013). Carr and former graduate student Prof. Larry D. Bowers of the UMN Medical School co-chaired the International Conference on Column Liquid Chromatography held in Minneapolis in 1994.

Mentorship matters

Over the course of his career, Carr has mentored over 100 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. In a 2013 interview he wrote:

“I have been blessed with a tremendous number of really excellent students. Quite a few of them have gone very far in their careers and have had a major role in analytical chemistry in the United States, both in industry and in their own academic careers. They have had a huge impact on the research that had been done frequently determining its direction and depth. I know in the long run, I have learned more from them than they have from me.”

Carr’s excellence in teaching and mentorship was recognized multiple times during his tenure. He was named a Distinguished University Teaching Professor in 2002 for his outstanding contributions to graduate education and received the J. Calvin Giddings Award for Excellence in Education from the American Chemical Society in 2013. Carr was also recognized in the Mentor category of the Analytical Scientist’s Power List in 2017 and 2023. During his tenure at Minnesota he organized and collaborated with a number of his colleagues around UMN and neighboring colleges on a series of semester-long workshops for graduate students in chemistry and chemical engineering on “How to Get an Academic Job.” An outgrowth of this mentoring is a set of videos entitled “Surviving and Thriving in Higher Education” produced by Maral Mousavi (Bühlmann Group, PhD 2016)  and Evan Anderson (Buhlmann Group, PhD 2019) of the CCGS. This includes discussions of “How to Read a Paper Efficiently”, “How to Write a Paper in a Weekend”, “How to Write a Winning Resume in an Afternoon”, “How to Choose Your Thesis Adviser”, “Bridging the Gap between Grad School and a Job”. 

The next chapter 

Carr is now relaxing a bit after co-authoring with Prof. Dwight R. Stoll (Carr group, PhD 2007) on his second monograph Multidimensional Liquid Chromatography: Principles, Practice, and Applicationpublished in late 2022. Carr says he’s looking forward to having more time to pursue his life-time love of fishing for smallmouth bass on Lake Vermilion. When he’s not busy enjoying nature, he plans to finish writing up some “long-delayed” papers on education in analytical chemistry, and continue as co-editor with Nelu Grinberg of the series of annual reviews “Advances in Chromatography”.