How do you define chromatography?

Before the last CASSS Discussion group debate on difference between high temperature and high pressure liquid chromatography started, there was a welcome slide projected on the wall. There was only one sentece (paraphrase):

Meet other people who like and understand what you do

I highlighted the most important part (for me), because I have always problems to explain what I am doing. I would like to ask you all for your thoughts.

  • How do you define chromatography?
  • Do you have problems to interpret chromatography to other people who don’t understand the chemistry at all?
How do you define chromatography?
How do you define chromatography?

In my case, I am always trying to use words as analysing what is inside a sample, separation of complex mixtures, etc. On the very end (when I see that the listener has no clue at all), I am always using examples such as “when you are visiting doctors, they can determine the level of your cholesterol in a blood with chromatography” or “it can be used for a quality control of gasoline in your car”.

Usually, people just answer “ahaa”. And I know, that they still don’t know what I am talking about.

Once I have read the definition of the chromatography as a running race. On the beginning there is a group of a runners and as time flows (mobile phase?;) the group is separated to a groups of the runners with a same speed (retention). On the end of the run, the winner is a non retained compound and the others are individual parts of the mixture. I am not using this expression often, though. But maybe I will.

At the end of the day – as the saying goes – if I am not able to explain what I am doing to my grandparents, then I dont know what I do.

What are your experience and expressions how to define chromatographic separations?

Your comments and suggestions are more than welcome.

PS: if you are looking for a book which might introduce you in the field of liquid chromatography I strongly recommend Introduction to Modern Liquid Chromatography by Snyder, Kirkland and Dolan. And you might get it also for your Kindle ;-)

2 replies on “How do you define chromatography?”

Well, I used to “borrow” one good explanation on chromatography from “Chromatography Forum”, when I was trying to illustrate the “actual” chromatographic process “on column”. Thank to Uwe Neue, I borrowed this story:
Imagine you have three ethnic tourist groups sight seeing Bourbon Street in New Orleans: Arabs, Germans and Irish. They all together start from one side of the street and tend to separate one group from each other as they pass trough the street. Because Arabs don’t drink alcohol they wouldn’t visit any of the bars on the street, and subsequently they will pass the whole street in the shortest time. So they were at least “retained” in the street, because they don’t have “affinity” toward alcohol and bars. Germans will eventually visit the pubs and have a beer or two, before they leave the street. So they will be more “retained” in it, and will come to the end of the street later than Arabs. The Irish, however, will enter in each bar, have a couple of drinks, afterward they will spend a quality time in the toilette and then again have couple of drinks, and finally leave the bar and visit the next to it. So they will be retained the most and will come at the end of the street very much later (also completely drunk :). So imagine that the street is “the column” and the Arabs, Germans and Irish are “the analytes”. And everything fits the global picture, right? :)

So, I always have found a great interest from students when I used to tell them this story of the “chromatographic process”.

Best regards

Comments are closed.