Gel permeation chromatography (GPC) is a type of size exclusion chromatography (SEC), that separates analytes on the basis of size. The technique is often used for the analysis of polymers. As a technique, SEC was first developed in 1955 by Lathe and Ruthven. The term gel permeation chromatography can be traced back to J.C. Moore of the Dow Chemical Company who investigated the technique in 1964 and the proprietary column technology was licensed to Waters Corporation, who subsequently commercialized this technology in 1964. GPC systems and consumables are now also available from a number of manufacturers. It is often necessary to separate polymers, both to analyze them as well as to purify the desired product.
When characterizing polymers, it is important to consider the polydispersity index (PDI) as well the molecular weight. Polymers can be characterized by a variety of definitions for molecular weight including the number average molecular weight (Mn), the weight average molecular weight (Mw) (see molar mass distribution), the size average molecular weight (Mz), or the viscosity molecular weight (Mv). GPC allows for the determination of PDI as well as Mv and based on other data, the Mn, Mw, and Mz can be determined.
How it works
GPC separates based on the size or hydrodynamic volume (radius of gyration) of the analytes. This differs from other separation techniques which depend upon chemical or physical interactions to separate analytes. Separation occurs via the use of porous beads packed in a column (see stationary phase (chemistry)).
The smaller analytes can enter the pores more easily and therefore spend more time in these pores, increasing their retention time. These smaller molecules spend more time in the column and therefore will elute last. Conversely, larger analytes spend little if any time in the pores and are eluted quickly. All columns have a range of molecular weights that can be separated.