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How do scientists use chromatography?

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Quick Answer

Chromatography is used by scientists to separate, analyze and identify the individual parts of a mixture. For example, chromatography was used to create synthetic insulin and to understand how the sun's energy is used by plants to make food.

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Mikhail Semenovich Tsvet came up with the process of chromatography in 1900. It was first used to separate plant pigments such as carotenes, chlorophyll and xanthophylls. The technique got its name because these plant components are all different colors. The process was continually developed throughout the 1930s and 1940s, making it useful for even more types of processes.

Through the work of Richard Synge and Archer Martin, three different types of chromatography methods were developed. These are paper chromatography, high performance liquid chromatography and gas chromatography. Liquid chromatography is the most common method used and is especially helpful in biotechnology. This method allows a scientist to separate the target molecule from any contaminants. By doing so, the molecule moves from the initial identification phase to a marketed product. Chromatography enables scientists to analyze the purity of the final product and prepare it for approval by the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA.

Chromatography is also used in forensics. In order to identify a material or substance from a crime scene, it first needs to be separated into its purist form. Then it can be compared with the results from other diagnostic tests.

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