A Brief Look at the Interesting History of Chromatography

Chemical scientist working in modern biological laboratory

Did you know that the discovery of chromatography is credited to Mikhail Tsvet thanks to his studies done in 1901? If you are in the world of chromatography and looking to learn more about its history, you are in the right place. We have put together this short guide to share the interesting history behind the chromatography process.

Keep reading to learn the ins and outs of chromatography history.

Before 1901

Before Mikhail’s discovery, there were dye chemists in the 19th century that were testing their dye mixtures. They were dipping pieces of filter paper, dipping strings, or pieces of cloth into a dye vat. Then when the dye solution migrated up the material, the dye components would produce bands of different colors. 

Those scientists noticed that there were concentric colored rings developing when they were dropping inorganic compound solutions in the middle of a piece of filter paper. After this observation, Friedrich Goppelsröder published a writing in 1861, where he called this “capillary analysis” and went into detail to describe the method. 


A few decades later Mikhail S. Tsvet recognized the physicochemical basis of the separation and so he was able to apply this knowledge in an organized way to the separation of plant pigments. The technique that he described is still used today in almost the same form. 

What Tsvet did was pack a vertical glass column with a type of absorptive material (powdered sugar, alumina, or silica). Then he added a solution of the plant pigments to the top of the glass column and then used an organic solvent to wash the pigments through the column. 

Once he did this, the pigments separated into a series of colored bands on the column. There were areas that were completely free of any pigments.

He ended up calling the method chromatography because he worked with colored substances. The word chromatography comes from Greek words that mean “color writing.”

Growth of Chromatography

Over the years the techniques for chromatography have evolved and grown. Since 1901, there have been other developments such as gas chromatography, liquid chromatography, paper chromatography, thin layer chromatography, and affinity chromatography.

If you have a love for the sciences, you can further contribute to the exploration of chromatography and you never know you might develop something worthy of a Wolf Prize in Medicine like past scientists in 1987 when they invented and developed affinity chromatography in the world of biomedical sciences.

For those that wish to continue exploring liquid chromatography, you want to make sure you invest in reliable HPLC vials and caps to ensure that you don’t have issues with your glass or materials. 

Feeling Like a Chromatography History Pro?

We hope that now that you have learned more about the history of chromatography you are feeling more knowledgeable in the subject and if you work in a science lab that deals with chromatography and chemistry lab equipment you are feeling more confident about what you’re doing. 

If our blog post came in handy today please continue browsing our science section for our latest news and articles.

Kelle Maurer

Kelle Maurer