The Fascinating Applications of High-Performance Liquid Chromatography

chromatography process

When passengers hop on a plane to reach their travel destination, their minds are filled with fantasies of people they might meet and experiences they can share at home. When a police officer arrests a man accused of murder, thoughts of finding out the truth and possibly getting a promotion fills his head. In both scenarios, none of them realizes that much of their success in reaching their goals hinges on a technology developed years ago: high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC).

HPLC and the Freedom of Man

“The main object of all science is the freedom and happiness of man,” wrote Thomas Jefferson on a letter to General Kosciusko on 1810.

Before the first HPLC instrument was made commercially available in 1967 by Waters Associates, people used gas chromatography to analyze compounds for whatever purposes. However, it had its limits. It can analyze only volatile compounds. HPLC, on the other hand, can analyze a broader range of compounds, picking apart their individual components and quantifying them. This capability made HPLC instrumental in the discovery of new drugs, detection of illicit drugs in human blood, and development of more advanced medical analysis. HPLC gave man the freedom to create more solutions to the world’s evolving problems.

HPLC and Ancient Beers

Beer is important no matter the age. When archaeologists found drinking vessels used in Scandinavia over 2,000 years ago, they sought to identify what these vessels used to contain. Using HPLC and palynological analysis, the archaeologists analyzed the vessels and determined the ingredients used in ancient Scandinavia beer. The results were used to make a brew called Kvasir, a replica of the ancient beer with wheat, honey, cranberries, lingonberries, and herbs.

The use of HPLC in archaeology goes beyond beers. It is also used in figuring out what the ancient people used to eat and detecting pathogens and illnesses in archaeological remains.

HPLC and Aviation

man checking plane requirements for take off

Aviation is an exact science that needs precision. One tiny error can risk lives. According to ASTM D6379, fuels used in planes are carefully analyzed using HPLC for quality and combustion properties. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International develops and sets technical standards for a wide range of products, systems, and materials.

HPLC and Medicine

Since HPLC can separate a broader range of compounds, it is a highly efficient method to identify, quantify, and purify the individual components of a mixture. This allows scientists to single out a component with beneficial properties and develop new drugs based on the results. HPLC is also used to determine the quality of drug products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) actually requires all pharmaceutical companies to use HPLC to screen their products before selling them to the market.

Much of the comfort of modernity is products of technological advancements. The general public may not realize it, but throngs of scientists burning the midnight oil are responsible for having safe flights, developing medicine for emerging diseases, detecting illegal drug users, and even creating new kinds of beer.