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Gas chromatography

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Gaschromatograph

A gas chromatograph, courtesy Mcbort, via Wikipedia

Gas chromatography is a method of analyzing an unknown sample by separating the chemicals in the sample by their respective chemical and physical properties. Gas Chromatography (GC) consists of two phases, a mobile phase and a stationary phase. The sample is placed into a GC column, which is a tube filled with an inert substance known as the stationary phase. This column is placed inside an oven, so the temperature can be precisely controlled. The sample is vaporized (not combusted) in the column, and is moved through the column by an inert gas known as the mobile phase. As the mobile phase moves the sample through the stationary phase, the varying chemical and physical properties of the components of the sample force the sample to be separated into the constituent components. Once these components are separated, they can be analyzed by a detector to determinate their chemical composition.

One such detector, known as a flame ionization detector (FID) analyzes the separated components from the GC by combusting them and analyzing the spectrum of said combustion. Each chemical compound exhibits a unique spectrum when combusted,

This unique spectrum is because, withIn quantum theory, electrons returning to their rest state after having energy added to them (such as being heated) give off a characteristic frequency tied to the properties of the atom to which they are attached. For example, the salts of copper give off a characteristic green color even to the naked eye. A flame ionization detector can test the atoms in a very small sample and record the frequencies, which can then be compared to standard samples to identify all the compounds in the sample.

It should be noted that a flame ionization detector is not the only detector which can be used in conjunction with gas chromatography, and many other detectors exists for specified applications. Gas chromatography can further be used in conjunction with mass spectrometry (a process known as GC/MS) to accurately discern the composition of the sample by means of analyzing the mass of the components of the sample.

In medicine, gas chromatography is used to test for toxins in the blood and hair, and is even sensitive enough to test a single hair for compounds deposited in it as it grows. It can easily detect quantities of compounds that are too small to test for with standard chemical tests. It can also be used on just about any type of tissue.

However, gas chromatography is very expensive. Only the best hospitals and labs are typically equipped with the necessary equipment.

Gas chromatography at Wikipedia

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