Friday, December 10, 2010

Isocratic flow and gradient elution

A separation in which the mobile phase composition remains constant throughout the procedure is termed isocratic (meaning constant composition). The word was coined by Csaba Horvath who was one of the pioneers of HPLC.
The mobile phase composition does not have to remain constant. A separation in which the mobile phase composition is changed during the separation process is described as a gradient elution.One example is a gradient starting at 10% methanol and ending at 90% methanol after 20 minutes. The two components of the mobile phase are typically termed "A" and "B"; A is the "weak" solvent which allows the solute to elute only slowly, while B is the "strong" solvent which rapidly elutes the solutes from the column. Solvent A is often water, while B is an organic solvent miscible with water, such as acetonitrile, methanol, THF, or isopropanol.
In isocratic elution, peak width increases with retention time linearly according to the equation for N, the number of theoretical plates. This leads to the disadvantage that late-eluting peaks get very flat and broad. Their shape and width may keep them from being recognized as peaks.
Gradient elution decreases the retention of the later-eluting components so that they elute faster, giving narrower (and taller) peaks for most components. This also improves the peak shape for tailed peaks, as the increasing concentration of the organic eluent pushes the tailing part of a peak forward. This also increases the peak height (the peak looks "sharper"), which is important in trace analysis. The gradient program may include sudden "step" increases in the percentage of the organic component, or different slopes at different times – all according to the desire for optimum separation in minimum time.
In isocratic elution, the selectivity does not change if the column dimensions (length and inner diameter) change – that is, the peaks elute in the same order. In gradient elution, the elution order may change as the dimensions or flow rate change.
The driving force in reversed phase chromatography originates in the high order of the water structure. The role of the organic component of the mobile phase is to reduce this high order and thus reduce the retarding strength of the aqueous component.

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