A Column About Columns

I blog a lot about Agilent columns.  What are they?  And what do they do?

A gas or liquid chromatograph analyzes an unknown sample by separating it into its individual chemical components.  The column is the part of the instrument that performs this separation.  A column is a long tube lined with specialized chemicals.  As a sample makes its way through the tube, certain components will “stick” to the inside of the tube, causing them to separate and flow through more slowly.

Agilent’s resident professor Jim Hollenhorst has a great demonstration of separation that you can do with your kids.

Some of Agilent’s biggest innovations have been in column technology.

Decades ago, scientists used columns made of steel (which reacted with some analytes) or glass (which was extremely fragile).  In 1979, Hewlett-Packard (Agilent’s predecessor company) introduced fused-silica capillary columns, which were as inert as glass but extremely flexible.  The importance of this innovation cannot be overstated, as it paved the way for adoption of gas chromatography as a mainstream laboratory technique.  Founder David Packard considered this one of his company’s single greatest breakthroughs, as it revolutionized chemical analysis and enabled more compounds to be analyzed.

Agilent continues to innovate column technology.  The Agilent Ultra Inert Flow Path overcomes the negative effects of any potentially active instrument parts interacting with analytes – including columns, liners and connectors.  And Agilent PLOT columns – used for samples that are gaseous at room temperature – continue to have capabilities no one else can offer, even after almost 20 years on the market.

In fact, we just introduced a new column that can analyze both esters and free fatty acids using a single column.  (Previously, this analysis typically required two different columns.)  A breakthrough for your bag of potato chips!

Thanks to Agilent scientists Farah Mavandadi, Norbert Reuter and Johan Kuipers for their help with today’s post.


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