Chromatography is used in industrial processes to purify chemicals, test for trace amounts of substances, separate chiral compounds and test products for quality control. Chromatography is the physical process by which complex mixtures are separated or analyzed. This is done by flushing different substances at different rates based upon absorption into different media.
Chromatography separates and analyzes additives, vitamins, preservatives, amino acids and proteins in foods to determine nutritional content. Chromatography can detect aflatoxin, a carcinogen found in mold growing on peanuts.
One wide-ranging use of chromatography is to detect the presence of alcohol in the blood. The process also filters drugs in urine and other body fluids. In terms of forensic science, chromatography can detect trace amounts of chemicals in accelerants or explosives.
The pharmaceutical industry has found ways to separate chiral compounds using chromatography, as the Science Encyclopedia describes. Thalidomide is an example of a chiral compound with two isomers that are identical in every way except the alignment of molecules. One isomer causes birth defects and the other could be used to treat drug-resistant bacteria. Separating the two isomers of this compound using chromatography is vitally important to keep the good thalidomide from contaminating the bad version.
Gas chromatography is one of the most commonly used chemical processes to separate liquids, solids and gases. According to the Linde Group, the process works by inserting a mixture into a stream of inert gas. The different substances are separated by size, interaction with other media and absorption into chemical detectors.