Adsorption Chromatography: Definition & Example

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  • 0:04 Adsorption Chromatography
  • 1:36 Thin Layer Chromatography
  • 2:59 Column Chromatography
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

Adsorption chromatography was the first actual form of chromatography discovered. In this lesson we will learn what it is and look at specific examples of how it is used.

Adsorption Chromatography

Over 100 years ago, Mikhail Tsvet, a Russian-Italian botanist, was the first person to separate out the pigments in plants. They were separated into yellow, orange, and green colors. Today we know that these different pigments come from xanthophylls (yellow), carotene (orange), and chlorophylls (green). This was the beginning of chromatography, and this first chromatography utilized adsorption chromatography. In fact, the name 'chromatography' comes from a Greek word that means 'drawing colors.'

The type of chromatography used was adsorption chromatography. Adsorption means to stick to the surface. Typically this term refers to a gas or liquid that sticks to the surface of a solid. Adsorption chromatography uses a stationary phase in the solid state and a mobile phase in the liquid or gas state. It works because there's a balance that each solute has between adsorption on the surface of the solid and solubility in the solvent. So, the solvent will move with the mobile phase until the balance or equilibrium is reached and it adsorbs to the solid phase. The point where it adsorbs creates a line. Since different compounds will travel different distances, this compound can be identified based on how far it's traveled.

As a side note, this shouldn't be confused with partition chromatography. Adsorption chromatography differs from partition chromatography because the stationary phase is in the solid state. With partition chromatography the stationary phase is in the liquid state, spread in a thin layer across a solid surface.

Thin Layer Chromatography

Thin layer chromatography (TLC) typically uses silica or alumina as the stationary phase, which is put onto a glass, plastic, or aluminum base in a very thin layer. By using a very thin stationary phase, the results can be more efficient than with a thick stationary phase. We don't need to use as much solvent, and we don't need to worry as much about the solvent evaporating prior to the separation completing.

TLC works by 'spotting' a small sample of the compound to be separated on the bottom of the plate. The sample will stay at this spot, because it adsorbs to the surface of the stationary phase. Then, the mobile phase is added. This mobile phase will create a solution with the sample, moving it along the TLC plate. But eventually the attraction between different components of the sample and the stationary phase will win out over the attraction between the solvent and that component in the sample. Once this occurs, that component of the sample will adsorb to the surface of the stationary phase, creating a line or spot.

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