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Since its introduction in 1952, gas chromatography (GC) has been a staple in most laboratories. However, high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) arrived shortly after in 1960 and has become a common analytical technique in lab use today. In fact, many labs found having both a GC and HPLC machine in their employ to be a necessity for various research opportunities. Continue reading to learn the differences between GC and HPLC.

The mobile and stationary phases

Arguably, the major difference between GC and HPLC are their mobile and stationary phases. In GC, the mobile phase is a pure gas, and the stationary phase is a liquid upon a solid base. On the other hand, HPLC’s mobile phase is a liquid, and its stationary phase is a column that attracts compounds based on their polarity. However, it’s important to note that HPLC could have one of two phases: normal or reverse. In normal-phase HPLC, polar compounds will attach to the column more than their nonpolar counterparts. In reverse-phase HPLC––the most common form of HPLC––nonpolar compounds will attach longer than their polar counterparts.

Their respective purpose

While both chromatography methods separate mixtures to analyze their compounds, each method has its primary strengths. For instance, lab technicians use GC primarily to analyze a compound’s purity. Additionally, GC can be a helpful tool to identify the compound itself. Alternatively, scientists use HPLC primarily to separate a mixture and analyze the components individually. Many lab technicians prefer HPLC because of its high-pressure properties, allowing for a more efficient process.

The discovery of chromatography was groundbreaking at the time of its discovery, and innovative chromatography methods have led to countless other groundbreaking findings. However, the two that have stood the test of time thus far are GC and HPLC, and rightfully so. Each method is versatile, reliable, and relatively simple to use, and for the best results in the lab, technicians should know the differences between GC and HPLC.

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