Analytical chemistry is the study of the chemical composition of natural and artificial materials. Unlike other major sub disciplines of chemistry such as inorganic chemistry and organic chemistry, analytical chemistry is not restricted to any particular type of chemical compound or reaction. Properties studied in analytical chemistry include geometric features such as molecular morphologies and distributions of species, as well as features such as composition and species identity. The contributions made by analytical chemists have played critical roles in the sciences ranging from the development of concepts and theories (pure science) to a variety of practical applications, such as biomedical applications, environmental monitoring, quality control of industrial manufacturing and forensic science (applied science).
Analytical chemistry is a sub discipline of chemistry that has the broad mission of understanding the chemical composition of all matter and developing the tools to elucidate such compositions. This differs from other sub disciplines of chemistry in that it is not intended to understand the physical basis for the observed chemistry as with physical chemistry and it is not intended to control or direct chemistry as is often the case in organic chemistry and it is not necessarily intended to provide engineering tactics as are often used in materials science. Analytical chemistry generally does not attempt to use chemistry or understand its basis; however, these are common outgrowths of analytical chemistry research. Analytical chemistry has significant overlap with other branches of chemistry, especially those that are focused on a certain broad class of chemicals, such as organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry or biochemistry, as opposed to a particular way of understanding chemistry, such as theoretical chemistry. For example the field of bioanalytical chemistry is a growing area of analytical chemistry that addresses all analytical questions in biochemistry, (the chemistry of life). Analytical chemistry and experimental physical chemistry, however, have a unique relationship in that they are very unrelated in their mission but often share the most in common in the tools used in experiments.
Analytical chemistry is particularly concerned with the questions of "what chemicals are present, what are their characteristics and in what quantities are they present?" These questions are often involved in questions that are more dynamic such as what chemical reaction an enzyme catalyzes or how fast it does it, or even more dynamic such as what is the transition state of the reaction. Although analytical chemistry addresses these types of questions it stops after they are answered. The next logical steps of understanding what it means, how it fits into a larger system, how can this result be generalized into theory or how it can be used are not analytical chemistry. Since analytical chemistry is based on firm experimental evidence and limits itself to some fairly simple questions to the general public it is most closely associated with hard numbers such as how much lead is in drinking water.
Modern analytical chemistry is dominated by instrumental analysis. There are so many different types of instruments today that it can seem like a confusing array of acronyms rather than a unified field of study. Many analytical chemists focus on a single type of instrument. Academics tend to either focus on new applications and discoveries or on new methods of analysis. The discovery of a chemical present in blood that increases the risk of cancer would be a discovery that an analytical chemist might be involved in. An effort to develop a new method might involve the use of a tunable laser to increase the specificity and sensitivity of a spectrometric method. Many methods, once developed, are kept purposely static so that data can be compared over long periods of time. This is particularly true in industrial quality assurance (QA), forensic and environmental applications. Analytical chemistry plays an increasingly important role in the pharmaceutical industry where, aside from QA, it is used in discovery of new drug candidates and in clinical applications where understanding the interactions between the drug and the patient are critical.
Much of early chemistry (1661-~1900AD) was analytical chemistry since the questions of what elements and chemicals were present in the world around us and what are their fundamental natures is very much in the realm of analytical chemistry. There was also significant early progress in synthesis and theory which of course are not analytical chemistry. During this period significant analytical contributions to chemistry include the development of systematic elemental analysis by Justus von Liebig and systematized organic analysis based on the specific reactions of functional groups. The first instrumental analysis was flame emissive spectrometry developed by Robert Bunsen and Gustav Kirchhoff who discovered rubidium (Rb) and caesium (Cs) in 1860.
Most of the major developments in analytical chemistry take place after 1900. During this period instrumental analysis becomes progressively dominant in the field. In particular many of the basic spectroscopic and spectrometric techniques were discovered in the early 20th century and refined in the late 20th century. The separation sciences follow a similar time line of development and also become increasingly transformed into high performance instruments. In the 1970s many of these techniques began to be used together to achieve a complete characterization of samples. Starting in approximately the 1970s into the present day analytical chemistry has progressively become more inclusive of biological questions (bioanalytical chemistry), whereas it had previously been largely focused on inorganic or small organic molecules. Lasers have been increasingly used in chemistry as probes and even to start and influence a wide variety of reactions. The late 20th century also saw an expansion of the application of analytical chemistry from somewhat academic chemical questions to forensic, environmental, industrial and medical questions, such as in histology.
Most modern analytical chemistry is categorized by two different approaches such as analytical targets or analytical methods. Analytical Chemistry (journal) reviews two different approaches alternatively in the issue 12 of each year.
Although modern analytical chemistry is dominated by sophisticated instrumentation, the roots of analytical chemistry and some of the principles used in modern instruments are from traditional techniques many of which are still used today. These techniques also tend to form the backbone of most undergraduate analytical chemistry educational labs. Examples include:
Hyphenated separation techniques refers to a combination of two (or more) techniques to detect and separate chemicals from solutions. Most often the other technique is some form of chromatography. Hyphenated techniques are widely used in chemistry and biochemistry. A slash is sometimes used instead of hyphen, especially if the name of one of the methods contains a hyphen itself.
Examples of hyphenated techniques:
A lot of effort is put in shrinking the analysis techniques to chip size. Although there are few examples of such systems competitive with traditional analysis techniques, potential advantages include size/portability, speed, and cost. (micro Total Analysis System (µTAS) or Lab-on-a-chip). Microscale chemistry reduces the amounts of chemicals used.
Much effort is also put into analyzing biological systems. Examples of rapidly expanding fields in this area are:
Analytical chemistry has played critical roles in the understanding of basic science to a variety of practical applications, such as biomedical applications, environmental monitoring, quality control of industrial manufacturing, forensic science and so on.
The recent developments of computer automation and information technologies have innervated analytical chemistry to initiate a number of new biological fields. For example, automated DNA sequencing machines were the basis to complete human genome projects leading to the birth of genomics. Protein identification and peptide sequencing by mass spectrometry opened a new field of proteomics. Furthermore, a number of ~omics based on analytical chemistry have become important areas in modern biology.
Also, analytical chemistry has been an indispensable area in the development of nanotechnology. Surface characterization instruments, electron microscopes and scanning probe microscopes enables scientists to visualize atomic structures with chemical characterizations.
Analytical chemistry is pursuing the development of practical applications and commercial instruments rather than elucidating scientific fundamentals. This may be an arguable difference from overlapping science areas such as physical chemistry and biophysics, although there isn't any distinct boundaries among disciplines in contemporary science and technology. However, this aspect may attract many engineers' interest; thus, it is not difficult to see papers from engineering departments in analytical chemistry journals.
Among active contemporary analytical chemistry research fields, micro total analysis system is considered as a great promise of revolutionary technology. In this approach, integrated and miniaturized analytical systems are being developed to control and analyze single cells and single molecules. This cutting-edge technology has a promising potential of leading a new revolution in science as integrated circuits did in computer developments.