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Techniques & Tools Gas Chromatography, Liquid Chromatography

Frank L. Dorman: Chromatography Revolution Now!

What is the state of chromatography today?

People use the word “mature” when they describe GC or LC. But this attitude may be part of the reason why development and refinement has begun to plateau. The state of the science is certainly stable and robust, but there are still many gains to be made to accomplish overall goals: increased throughput, improved detection limits, improved separations… One of the most exciting things about GC×GC is that it causes us to rethink what is possible for a gas-liquid separations. What we might have been happy with 20 years ago for a typical GC separation is no no-longer acceptable thanks to advancements in this area – it’s caused us to strive for improved resolution, especially when dealing with very challenging analyses.

Do you have any “top tips” for getting the most out of a given instrument or technique?

Probably the biggest hint I can give is to truly understand how the instrument or tool you are using actually works. So often I see people that use chromatography or mass spectrometry as a tool – without a good grounding in the basics. This can leave people unequipped to determine when data is sound or not – and they’ll certainly have a difficult time returning a failed instrument back into service! Instruments are considerably easier to operate today than they were 30 or more years ago, which is a nice benefit, but users are becoming less sophisticated in their understanding of these instruments as a result. We do not want to lose this skill. The same challenge pertains to sample preparation – one of the least glamorous areas of our profession. And yet, a detailed understanding of what actually occurs on a chemical level during various stages of sample preparations is critical to producing the highest quality data or developing a new analytical method.

What do you see in your crystal ball for chromatography’s future? 

I think we will see a change in the physical column formats for both GC and LC. Both of these “mature” fields produce columns that exhibit nearly 100 percent of their theoretical efficiency. There is very little we can do to further the separation power of what we use today without a fundamental change in the columns themselves. We have spent a lot of time refining and advancing instruments, but relatively little on the columns. There have been a few incremental improvements, for sure, but it has not significantly impacted what we are able to separate, identify, and quantify. Multidimensional chromatography has certainly allowed us to realize a significant improvement in resolution, but it also uses the same column formats. I think we will see something in the future that allows for a step-change in resolving power, allowing the field to overcome current separation challenges.

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About the Author
James Strachan

Over the course of my Biomedical Sciences degree it dawned on me that my goal of becoming a scientist didn’t quite mesh with my lack of affinity for lab work. Thinking on my decision to pursue biology rather than English at age 15 – despite an aptitude for the latter – I realized that science writing was a way to combine what I loved with what I was good at.

From there I set out to gather as much freelancing experience as I could, spending 2 years developing scientific content for International Innovation, before completing an MSc in Science Communication. After gaining invaluable experience in supporting the communications efforts of CERN and IN-PART, I joined Texere – where I am focused on producing consistently engaging, cutting-edge and innovative content for our specialist audiences around the world.

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