Category Archives: Tsvet

Was Tsvet really the first to use chromatography?

According to most sources, Russian Botanist Mikhail Tsvet was the first person to use chromatography (in fact, he coined the term) in 1901 when seperating an extract of green leaves through a glass tube filled with calcium carbonate.

But according to an article published in the Montreal Gazette, it appears two German scientists may have been doing some chromatography nearly 40 years earlier…

The Annual Review of Progress in Chemistry published in German in 1862, about 40 years before Tsvet’s experiment, includes the following lines: “Friedrich Goppelsroder has shown that (Christian) Schönbein’s observation, whereby solutions of various substances are aspired with very different rates and intensities by filter paper, can be used to separate and distinguish different dyes contained in the solution.” That is a clear a description of what we now call “paper chromatography,” yet Goppelsroder and Christian Friedrich Schönbein hardly ever get a mention when it comes to the invention of the technique. 

Read more:

Seriously, we recommend reading the entire article – it’s a truly great read.

Celebrating the birth of the father of Chromatography

Mikhail Semyonovich Tsvet was born on this day in 1872.Tsvet

Here’s an excerpt from Discoveries in Medicine about the significance of Tsvet’s work:

The first chromatograph was invented by Russian botanist Mikhail Semenovich Tsvett (1872-1919). While working in Poland, Tsvett was looking for a method of separating a mixture of plant pigments (tints) which are chemically very similar to each other. To isolate different types of chlorophyll, he trickled a mixture of dissolved pigments through a glass tube packed with calcium carbonate powder. As the solution washed downward, each pigment stuck to the powder with a different degree of strength, creating a series of colored bands. Each band of color represented a different substance. Tsvett referred to the colored bands as a chromatogram. He also suggested that the technique (now called adsorption chromatography) could be used to separate colorless substances.

Although Tsvett published a report of his work in the early 1900s, chemists paid very little attention to it. There were a few reasons for ignoring the work. First, the report was written in Russian, which few Western chemists of the time read. Second, the technique may have seemed too simple to chemists who were used to relying on lengthy extraction, crystallization, or distillation processes to separate mixtures. Within a few years, Tsvett’s technique was rediscovered. The rediscovery was by the German organic chemist Richard Martin Willstatter (1872-1942), who was also studying chlorophyll. By introducing chromatography to Western European scientists, Willstatter helped establish one of the most versatile analytical techniques known to chemistry.

Join us today as we honor the work of Mikhail Semyonovich Tsvet