Thin Layer Chromatography - History


The origin of thin layer chromatography is a little obscure but was probably first developed and utilized by Schraiber in 1939 (1). Schraiber working with Izmailov at the Khar'kov Chemistry and Pharmacy Research Institute developed the techniques for use in the analysis of pharmaceuticals. Quoting from her publication,

" It occurred to us that a thin layer of the sorbent could be used in lieu of a strip of paper; also we felt that the flat bed could be considered as a cut-out of the adsorbent column. We believed that in carrying out the separation process in such a layer, the process would be accelerated significantly. In our work, we deposited a drop of the solution being investigated on the flat adsorbent layer and observed the separation into concentric circular zones which could become visible because of their fluorescence in the light of a UV lamp."

It seems fairly clear that Schraiber not only discovered thin layer chromatography in 1939 but was also the first to employ fluorescence as a method of detecting the spots of the separated components. Unfortunately, somewhat like the work of Tswett, Schraiber's discovery does not seem to have been heeded by other workers in the field and the technique appears to have been rediscovered by Kirchner in 1951 (2). To quote Kirchner,

"I picked up the abstract (a paper by Meinhard and Hall (3) on drop chromatography for the separation of inorganic ions) and said, 'Here, let's make layers of silicic acid on strips of glass and develop them in an ascending manner similar to paper chromatography'. This step proved to be the key to the development of the successful system, now better known as 'thin layer chromatography', existing today. The method was first published in 1951 (4) and was used successfully by a large number of research workers prior to 1956 when Egon Stahl began publishing his first work."

Kirchner introduced the use of starch as a binder in the production of thin layer plates (5) and determined that necessary starch content could be reduced to between 2% and 5% and still mainyain suitable resolution. In 1956 Stahl invented an automatic spreader for TLC plates (6) and convinced Merk, a company that manufactured silica gel, to produce TLC plates commercially and make them generally available. As a result TLC became well established as a relatively rapid separation technique. In addition, with the introduction of gypsum as an alternative binder together with the use of silica particles a few micron in diameter very high plate efficiencies became possible.