Applications of Chromatography

4th Aug 2020

Applications of Chromatography

Chromatography is a vital tool used in many industries to determine the composition of a mixture. Chromatography is widely known for its role in scientific research, although it holds importance in other industries. Chromatography plays a vital role in industries we interact with quite often. Pharmaceuticals, clinical trials, environmental and chemical safety, food and beverage, drug testing, forensics, petroleum creation, and molecular biology are some of the most common uses of chromatography.

What is Chromatography?

Chromatography is a biophysical technique that creates separation, identification, and purification of a mixture to then analyze the components of the mixture. To do so, chromatography relies specifically on two different phases, the mobile and stationary phases. To separate the components of the mixture, it is dissolved in a solvent during the mobile phase. The mobile phase then carries the mixture through the stationary phase where the components of the mixture interact with the stationary phase. The components all interact with the stationary phase at their own pace, creating the separation of the components located within the mixture. The components of the mixture will move differently through this phase due to differences in absorption, partition, and molecular weights. Chromatography can be done in many ways to adhere to the different substances being analyzed. Some of the most common types of chromatography are gas chromatography, liquid chromatography, thin-layer chromatography, and column chromatography.

Applications of Chromatography

Pharmaceutical and Clinical Testing

Chromatography plays an important role in the safety of pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceutical companies use chromatography to quantify and analyze compounds for contaminants. For example, chiral compounds have two different forms due to their atoms differing slightly in space. One form of chiral compounds is known to be toxic. Chromatography can ensure that the safe form is separate from the dangerous form of the chiral compound. Vaccination creation is also an application of chromatography. Chromatography can be used to determine which antibodies are the best for fighting and neutralizing certain diseases. In tandem with mass spectrometry, liquid chromatography has revolutionized the clinical laboratory testing. While mass spectrometry can identify analytes by two physical properties, precursor and product ion mass, another property is added when used in tandem with liquid chromatography to identify the analyte even more accurately. Liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry also provide the ability to multiplex, or the ability to identify and quantify several analytes at once. This drastically saves time and money on clinical trials.

Food and Beverage

Quality control within the food and beverage industry can be enacted through chromatography. In the food industry, chromatography is used to separate and analyze additives, vitamins, proteins, amino acids, and other nutritional compounds in food items. Chromatography can also be used to determine expiration dates by distinguishing the number of organic acids present as well as to detect any harmful toxins that may have been added to the food item. An example of chromatography in the food industry is the horsemeat scandal of 2013. Previous testing methods were unable to distinguish the contents of processed meat, ultimately allowing horsemeat to be passed off as beef. With the use of chromatography, a clear differentiation can be made. In the beverage industry specifically, chromatography can be used to make sure every bottle of a drink prepared is consistent. For example, chromatography can separate a soda mixture to ensure every can has the same sugar content, keeping each bottle consistent in taste.

Environmental and Chemical Industry

The chemical industry must adhere to numerous environmental safety precautions. Perfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, have become a persistent threat to the human body and the environment. PFAS can be found in items such as protective coatings on shoes and other fabrics, electronics, and even firefighting foams. While these substances benefit products by making them extremely durable, they pose an environmental concern as they continue to accumulate. PFAS in our drinking water can also lead to damaging health concerns such as reproductive and developmental setbacks. By using solid-phase extraction, liquid chromatography, and mass spectrometry, we can detect PFAS in the environment and our drinking water, even at very low limits.

Drug Testing

Chromatography can be very useful in drug testing and clinical toxicology reports. Chromatography can separate and analyze substances found in urine samples. When running a clinical toxicology report, drug testing a new employee or testing a professional athlete for performance-enhancing drugs, chromatography determines what substances have been taken through an analysis of a urine sample which ultimately determines if any harmful or illicit drugs have been used.


Security practices are a unique industry where chromatography can be utilized. Gas chromatography can be used to determine volatile gases, furthering safety measures at locations such as airports and large gatherings with similar safety precautions like concerts and sporting events to eliminate deadly threats.


Similar to security precautions, Forensics is a unique application of chromatography. Gas chromatography can be used for more in-depth forensics procedures, for example, crime scene analysis to test evidence such as blood, hair, and fabric samples to further understand what may have happened at the scene. Chromatography is massively important to forensic pathology work. Gas chromatography is widely used to identify the types of fluids and compounds that exist in a body postmortem. In such cases, a possible cause of death and motive can be determined based on finding drugs, alcohol, or toxic substances in the body. Another unique form of forensics that can be assisted by chromatography is arson verification. By using chromatography in arson verification, it’s possible to identify flammable substances in fire debris to determine the exact substance that created the fire.

Molecular Biology Studies

One of the most complex uses of chromatography is molecular biology studies. Hybrid techniques between electrochemistry (EC) and mass spectrometry with chromatography are often applied to studies of proteins, peptides, and nucleic acids. This combination is largely used for metabolomics such as biotransformation reactions like oxidative reactions and proteomics such as the purification of plasma proteins, hormones, and antibodies. Chromatography in nucleic acid research plays a role in accelerating the identification process of nucleobases, nucleotides, and nucleosides, as well as identifying their oxidization process.


Gas chromatography is used to analyze finished gas products and refining processes. Chromatography is most notably used in the analysis of natural and refinery gas for BTU content and hydrocarbon composition. 

Nowadays, chromatography is often found in analytical, developmental, and quality control laboratories due to its wide range of abilities. Several different types of chromatography are used in several industries, including examples such as preparing safe pharmaceutical drugs and clinical testing, determining the expiration date and nutritional components of food and beverages, monitoring chemical safety impacts on the environment, and even aiding in forensics research. The various applications of chromatography all hold significant importance in their respective field to keep industries safe and to further understand changes in their landscape.

Applications of Chromatography Infographic