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The Important Applications of Paper Chromatography

The freshwater supply of earth is in peril of getting contaminated beyond being drinkable. The activities that people do on land can significantly affect the quality of the earth’s freshwater supplies.

Trash and industrial waste from manufacturing companies may end up in the water system despite the efforts of these corporations to effectively manage their solid wastes. These wastes entering the water system may be seen by the naked eye such as plastic bags, empty bottles, and other organic or inorganic materials.

These types of wastes can easily be segregated by physical means. However, there are also microscopic wastes that cannot be seen by the naked eye. These are the wastes that people cannot separate physically and must rely on chemical processes such as paper chromatography to identify.

The Sources of Water Quality Contamination

Fresh bodies of water such as streams, lakes, rivers, and even water from aquifers do not contain pure water alone. These water sources contain other chemical and biological components that are occurring naturally, such as algae, phosphorus, nitrogen, and trace metals.

These natural components found in water are essential components to keep freshwater ecosystems healthy. However, human activities have threatened the quality of these freshwater systems. Pollutants coming from homes and businesses have seeped into the freshwater systems.

The most common sources of freshwater pollutants come from the following:

  • Pharmaceuticals are the most common contaminants of drinking water. One survey has revealed that 53 out of 74 testing locations tested positive for one or more pharmaceutical contaminants.
  • The most common pharmaceutical chemicals that are commonly found in drinking water are estrogenic hormones that are used for contraceptive drugs.  
  • Nicotine and Antibiotics. Other contaminants that enter the drinking water supply are nicotine-laced urine from heavy smokers and antibiotics coming from the urine of farm animals.

 Fortunately, there are chemical methods that can assess the quality of drinking water. One of these methods is through paper chromatography.

What is Paper Chromatography? 

Paper chromatography is a technique mainly used by chemists to identify the chemical composition of a solution by separating the individual components. The combined solution is placed on a strip of special paper that is designed for chromatography. A solvent is then added to the strip of paper.

The type of solvent used will depend on the solubility of the mixture that needs to be separated. Chemists can use water, oil, or alcohol as solvents. As the solvent runs up the paper, the solvent carries with it the different component molecules at different rates.

Because of this, you can see the individual colors of the component molecules on the paper.

Paper Chromatography in Water Quality Analysis

Paper chromatography is a useful method in analyzing the quality of different mixtures. Chemists can use it to analyze the ingredients that are contained in a drug to find out whether the drug contains the right amounts of ingredients needed by patients.

Likewise, chemists can also use paper chromatography to analyze water quality by identifying and separating any impurities that may be contained in a water sample.

Other Applications of Paper Chromatography

The applications of paper chromatography are not limited to the simple identification of the different colors that were used in school markers. Paper chromatography has applications that are important in a lot of different fields.

Isolation and Purification: Chemists can also use paper chromatography to isolate a pure sample of the substance by separating them from a mixture. Since the solvent carries different solutes at different rates, when you know the properties of the solute you are looking for, you can pinpoint where you can find it within the chromatography paper.

You can cut the strip to get the pure sample then dissolve it again in suitable solvents repeatedly until you can get a purified sample.

Forensic Science and Pathology: Paper chromatography is also a useful tool in solving crimes by forensic chemists. Samples from crime scenes may be analyzed using paper chromatography. For example, forensic scientists may analyze the blood for any foreign chemicals such as alcohol or poison using paper chromatography.

Food Quality Monitoring: Chemists may also use paper chromatography in analyzing if non-permitted ingredients are being added to food products. Likewise, paper chromatography may also be used to analyze the nutritional value of certain food products.

So, do not think of the paper chromatography experiment that you did as a child as only a means to amaze you with science. Paper chromatography is a useful tool and can be used in many fields.

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