Chromatography is a process used to separate chemicals. Its discovery was made possible by scientists who discovered the process in green plants. In particular, chromatography was important in understanding how green plants convert light into chemical energy. The sunlight helps green plants change carbon dioxide, water, and carbohydrates. When Calvin observed the photosynthetic process in a plant, he interrupted it using alcohol and separated the components via paper chromatography. The resulting process led to the identification of ten different intermediate products.
While X-ray crystallography, a different technique, was widely recognized in the 20th century for its pioneering discoveries, the discovery of chromatography by Mikhail Tsvet was less well known. In fact, Tsvet’s work on chromatography went unrecognized for more than a decade. The discovery eventually led to Nobel Prizes for researchers who developed derivatives of the technique and made major discoveries by employing chromatography.
Tsvet, whose father was Russian and mother Italian, was born in Asti, Italy. After gaining a B.S. degree at the University of Geneva, he went on to study botany at the University of Geneva. The following year, he was awarded a doctorate in botany. He later re-earned his botany degree while living in Geneva, Switzerland.
Tsvet was a Russian citizen, and although he was allowed to work at the university in Switzerland, he was not officially recognized as a scientist in his native country. His education was based in Switzerland, and he had to acquire a Russian doctorate or Magister’s degree in order to be admitted into medical schools in Russia. Although his research spanned several years, it was eventually approved for use.
Before Tsvet developed chromatography, scientists conducted experiments similar to the one Tsvet used in the 1800s. But they thought that capillary action and filtering were the main methods for separating substances. In fact, capillarity is the flow of liquids through thin tubes due to surface tension and adhesive force. Chromatography, on the other hand, relies on electrical forces between tiny particles. One example is activated charcoal, which absorbs colors and purifies water.
After Tsvet’s discovery of chromatography, it quickly became one of the most important tools for chemical research in the twentieth century. However, despite its importance, Tsvet’s work was largely ignored for many years. The repercussions of his invention were tragic, as he died on the anniversary of his birth. A few of his discoveries have made it possible for chemists to analyze more complex materials.
A. J. P. Martin and R. L. M. Synge
In 1952, A. J. P. Martin and R. L. M. Synge, two professors of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, and J. F. Sutton of the University of Michigan, discovered chromatography. However, the technique didn’t become widely used until decades later. This paper was important for the discovery of chromatography because it presented the first chromatography theory. It described how the resolution of a column depends on its length and the solute concentration.
Initially, the technique was used to purify vitamins, such as vitamin E. Later, Martin and Synge used it to separate amino acids from each other. They hoped that quantitative analysis of amino acids would reveal the structure of proteins. In fact, they were wrong, as the method only revealed simplifications. The first apparatus Martin and Synge developed leaked chloroform at every joint, and Martin and Synge began to argue.
This discovery led to significant advances in science. For example, Frederick Sanger used paper chromatography to discover the structure of insulin, which is now used to treat people with diabetes. Ultimately, this method helped us identify and isolate many more biologically-derived molecules. There are many uses for chromatography today. So, it is an important technique in the laboratory.
In 1903 Mikhail Tsvet created the term “chromatography.” He separated plant pigments by washing them down a chalk column, but it was unreliable. As a graduate student, A. J. P. Martin and R. L. M. Synge developed the first theoretical explanations for the technique. A. J. P. Martin and R. L. M. Synge were the first to describe the technique in detail.
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