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From environmental research to petroleum research to testing blood for doping agents, GC remains a workhorse in the field of chromatography. And though other techniques are challenging GC and seeking to dethrone it, none have been completely successful to this point, as GC promises to remain relevant for years to come.
What trends do you see emerging in GC?
Feeney: The average experience level for GC and GC–MS operators has been decreasing for over a decade and this provides challenges to lab managers and instrument manufactures alike. Companies are looking for reliable, easy to maintain and operate systems, which provide many years of useful lifetime. Instrument manufacturers need to respond by developing new hardware and software that best meet these needs of their customers.
Robarge: Gas chromatography is seen as a mature technique, and this might lead some to believe that it is therefore not continuing to evolve. However, advances and innovations in gas chromatography continue to emerge every year as technology increases. We can envision GC systems that are smaller, faster, and easier to use, with detectors designed to meld with fast and ultra-fast chromatography. We also see that modern sample preparation techniques will be increasingly included in the GC instrument package. In addition, trends toward detectors that offer more specificity and selectivity, such as mass spectrometers, means that laboratories will be moving away from the traditional GC detectors, increasingly incorporating MS for detection.
Taylor: Instrument design engineers continue to improve performance through faster heat up and cool down times, better sensitivity specifications for the detectors and more precise regulation of electronic flow. Some instrument manufacturers are becoming more conscious of the environment, employing green manufacturing processes and creating more energy efficient instruments while maintaining performance specifications. New multidimensional separation techniques are being commercialized by interfacing the hardware with software that will allow the once complicated method development process to be greatly simplified. Helium is becoming more expensive as the world supply is consumed. As a result, instruments are being optimized for use with alternative carrier gas sources, such as Hydrogen, by focusing on safety as well as performance. Another trend is the use of the autosampler to do sample preparation. Modern GC autosamplers have evolving into sophisticated robotic devices that can add reagents for derivitization of samples, add internal standards, dilute and other functions typically done by operators or lab technicians. Some of the newer autosamplers can even change inlet liners or place thermal desorption tubes into a furnace.
What obstacles stand in the way of GC development?
Feeney: The current worldwide economic situation raises concerns that companies will not have the financial resources to replace aging equipment or upgrade to new equipment, which increases laboratory productivity.
Robarge: One of the key obstacles to GC development may be the underlying feeling that this mature technique could no longer benefit in terms of continuing innovation and development. The high visibility and adoption rate of liquid chromatography also overshadows some of the advantages of gas chromatography, making this market's relatively slower growth rate seem less attractive in terms of development. The market also seems to underestimate or overlook the potential of emerging multidimensional GC techniques that can greatly expand the separation power and selectivity of gas chromatography. However, as laboratories look to replace aging instrumentation or expand their test offerings, they will look to the GCs of today and tomorrow to offer better performance, reliability, and ease of use than the GCs of the past, and manufacturers need to continually innovate to ensure that new GCs meet these expectations.
Taylor: As a mature science, GC innovations have been coming in small incremental improvements. As new research areas emerge, application challenges will arise that will need to be met.
Thermo Fisher Scientific
Shimadzu Scientific Instruments