Understanding How Chromatography Actually Works

Understanding How Chromatography Actually Works

Ever accidentally spilled some water on a page that had printed ink on it? You may have noticed that even black ink doesn’t always smudge, but rather spread into different colors?

That’s chromatography in action! While most of us have witnessed this phenomenon, many aren’t aware of just how it all works and what causes it.

That’s what we’re here to dissect today. Read on to find out more about what chromatography is and how it all works!

What Is Chromatography?

Chromatography comes from the Greek words, “chroma” and “graphe” which roughly translates to “color writing.” As such, it’s an accurate description of what happens when water touches the ink.

With that said, chromatography doesn’t always involve ink or even writing. It’s more of a way of describing how chemicals, either in gas or liquid form, separate out by creeping past another substance.

Let’s look at the ink and paper example. We have the liquid, which is the ink, dissolving in water along with other solvents over a solid, which in this case is the paper.

The key thing to remember with chromatography is that we have some mixture of one state of matter, a gas or a liquid, moving over the surface of an entirely different state of matter, like a solid. So how does it all work?

How Does Chromatography Work?

Another way of thinking about chromatography is by looking at it like it’s a race. On the starting line are mixtures of chemicals, all with different properties and abilities.

Once the race starts, these chemicals start moving along the surface at different speeds. The moving substances here are called the mobile phase and the substance staying still is called the stationary phase.

As the chemicals move along the surface, some molecules are temporarily sucked into the surface and get pulled back to their corresponding chemical. This is called adsorption, and chemicals go through this at different rates.

Are There Different Types of Chromatography?

Believe it or not, chromatography isn’t just relegated to chemicals racing along a paper surface. There’s column chromatography and gas chromatography as well.

Column chromatography involves a vertical jar with an adsorbent solid, and a mobile phase drips through that jar. Gas chromatography is another slightly more complex form of chromatography that involves machines.

You begin by inserting a syringe with a mixture of substances into the aptly named gas chromatography machine. The components are heated, and a carrier gas helps those evaporated gases move through a column.

If you’re looking for chromatography equipment, such as well plates, to see all this in action, chromtech.com is a great place to visit.

How Is Chromatography Used?

Chromatography has traditionally been used to study chemicals and plant pigments. It’s a common laboratory equipment used today to look at complex mixtures, analyze crime scene samples, and pollutants.

When you have low concentrations of a sample, you can often use chromatography to get a good analysis. Being able to use tiny samples is one of the biggest advantages of chromatography.

Understanding Chromatography

Chromatography is more than just ink moving through paper, as it has quite a few components that make it such a versatile scientific tool. Use this guide to help you understand just how it all works today.

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