History of Chromatography

Chromatography -- what does it mean?

To write with colors -- literally translated from its Greek roots chroma and graphein , chromatography was first developed by the Russian botanist Mikhail Tswett in 1903 as he produced a colorful separation of plant pigments through a column of calcium carbonate. Chromatography has since developed into an invaluable laboratory tool for the separation and identification of compounds. Although color usually no longer plays a role in the process, the same principles of chromatography still apply.

Why use chromatography? The key here is separation. But what is the importance of separation in the lab?

Separation of chemical components is vital in any type of chemical analysis. When trying to identify an unknown substance, the sample must first be simplified as much as possible into its constituent compounds. The unknown can then be characterized by individual identification of its parts. This does not imply that the separated chemical components are recovered after the separation and analyzed. Usually, the analytes are irretrievable. Separated compounds are compared to known standards. As with most chemical exploration, it is important to have an idea of what compounds are being searched for in the first place.

For another description of chromatography, check out the presentation speech of Professor A. Tiselius, for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry won by A. J. P. Martin and R. L. M. Synge in 1952 for their work in partition chromatography.

Dr. Tiselius' Speech