Gas chromatography (GC), is a common type of chromatography used in analytical chemistry for separating and analyzing compounds that can be vaporized without decomposition. Typical uses of GC include testing the purity of a particular substance, or separating the different components of a mixture (the relative amounts of such components can also be determined). In some situations, GC may help in identifying a compound. In preparative chromatography, GC can be used to prepare pure compounds from a mixture.
In gas chromatography, the mobile phase (or "moving phase") is a carrier gas, usually an inert gas such as helium or an unreactive gas such as nitrogen. The stationary phase is a microscopic layer of liquid or polymer on an inert solid support, inside a piece of glass or metal tubing called a column (a homage to the fractionating column used in distillation). The instrument used to perform gas chromatography is called a gas chromatograph (or "aerograph", "gas separator").
The gaseous compounds being analyzed interact with the walls of the column, which is coated with a stationary phase. This causes each compound to elute at a different time, known as the retention time of the compound. The comparison of retention times is what gives GC its analytical usefulness.
Gas chromatography is in principle similar to column chromatography (as well as other forms of chromatography, such as HPLC, TLC), but has several notable differences. Firstly, the process of separating the compounds in a mixture is carried out between a liquid stationary phase and a gas mobile phase, whereas in column chromatography the stationary phase is a solid and the mobile phase is a liquid. (Hence the full name of the procedure is "Gas–liquid chromatography", referring to the mobile and stationary phases, respectively.) Secondly, the column through which the gas phase passes is located in an oven where the temperature of the gas can be controlled, whereas column chromatography (typically) has no such temperature control. Thirdly, the concentration of a compound in the gas phase is solely a function of the vapor pressure of the gas.
Gas chromatography is also similar to fractional distillation, since both processes separate the components of a mixture primarily based on boiling point (or vapor pressure) differences. However, fractional distillation is typically used to separate components of a mixture on a large scale, whereas GC can be used on a much smaller scale (i.e. microscale).
Gas chromatography is also sometimes known as vapor-phase chromatography (VPC), or gas–liquid partition chromatography (GLPC). These alternative names, as well as their respective abbreviations, are frequently used in scientific literature. Strictly speaking, GLPC is the most correct terminology, and is thus preferred by many authors.
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