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Analytical chemistry

Related subjects: Chemistry

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Analytical chemistry is the study of the chemical composition of natural and artificial materials. Unlike other major sub disciplines of chemistry such as inorganic chemistry and organic chemistry, analytical chemistry is not restricted to any particular type of chemical compound or reaction. Properties studied in analytical chemistry include geometric features such as molecular morphologies and distributions of species, as well as features such as composition and species identity. The contributions made by analytical chemists have played critical roles in the sciences ranging from the development of concepts and theories ( pure science) to a variety of practical applications, such as biomedical applications, environmental monitoring, quality control of industrial manufacturing and forensic science ( applied science).


Analytical chemistry is a sub discipline of chemistry that has the broad mission of understanding the chemical composition of all matter and developing the tools to elucidate such compositions. This differs from other sub disciplines of chemistry in that it is not intended to understand the physical basis for the observed chemistry as with physical chemistry and it is not intended to control or direct chemistry as is often the case in organic chemistry and it is not necessarily intended to provide engineering tactics as are often used in materials science. Analytical chemistry generally does not attempt to use chemistry or understand its basis; however, these are common outgrowths of analytical chemistry research. Analytical chemistry has significant overlap with other branches of chemistry, especially those that are focused on a certain broad class of chemicals, such as organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry or biochemistry, as opposed to a particular way of understanding chemistry, such as theoretical chemistry. For example the field of bioanalytical chemistry is a growing area of analytical chemistry that addresses all analytical questions in biochemistry, (the chemistry of life). Analytical chemistry and experimental physical chemistry, however, have a unique relationship in that they are very unrelated in their mission but often share the most in common in the tools used in experiments.

Analytical chemistry is particularly concerned with the questions of "what chemicals are present, what are their characteristics and in what quantities are they present?" These questions are often involved in questions that are more dynamic such as what chemical reaction an enzyme catalyzes or how fast it does it, or even more dynamic such as what is the transition state of the reaction. Although analytical chemistry addresses these types of questions it stops after they are answered. The next logical steps of understanding what it means, how it fits into a larger system, how can this result be generalized into theory or how it can be used are not analytical chemistry. Since analytical chemistry is based on firm experimental evidence and limits itself to some fairly simple questions to the general public it is most closely associated with hard numbers such as how much lead is in drinking water.

Modern analytical chemistry

Modern analytical chemistry is dominated by instrumental analysis. There are so many different types of instruments today that it can seem like a confusing array of acronyms rather than a unified field of study. Many analytical chemists focus on a single type of instrument. Academics tend to either focus on new applications and discoveries or on new methods of analysis. The discovery of a chemical present in blood that increases the risk of cancer would be a discovery that an analytical chemist might be involved in. An effort to develop a new method might involve the use of a tunable laser to increase the specificity and sensitivity of a spectrometric method. Many methods, once developed, are kept purposely static so that data can be compared over long periods of time. This is particularly true in industrial quality assurance (QA), forensic and environmental applications. Analytical chemistry plays an increasingly important role in the pharmaceutical industry where, aside from QA, it is used in discovery of new drug candidates and in clinical applications where understanding the interactions between the drug and the patient are critical.


Much of early chemistry (1661-~1900AD) was analytical chemistry since the questions of what elements and chemicals were present in the world around us and what are their fundamental natures is very much in the realm of analytical chemistry. There was also significant early progress in synthesis and theory which of course are not analytical chemistry. During this period significant analytical contributions to chemistry include the development of systematic elemental analysis by Justus von Liebig and systematized organic analysis based on the specific reactions of functional groups. The first instrumental analysis was flame emissive spectrometry developed by Robert Bunsen and Gustav Kirchhoff who discovered rubidium (Rb) and caesium (Cs) in 1860.

Most of the major developments in analytical chemistry take place after 1900. During this period instrumental analysis becomes progressively dominant in the field. In particular many of the basic spectroscopic and spectrometric techniques were discovered in the early 20th century and refined in the late 20th century. The separation sciences follow a similar time line of development and also become increasingly transformed into high performance instruments. In the 1970s many of these techniques began to be used together to achieve a complete characterization of samples. Starting in approximately the 1970s into the present day analytical chemistry has progressively become more inclusive of biological questions (bioanalytical chemistry), whereas it had previously been largely focused on inorganic or small organic molecules. The late 20th century also saw an expansion of the application of analytical chemistry from somewhat academic chemical questions to forensic, environmental, industrial and medical questions, such as in histology.


Traditionally, analytical chemistry has been split into two main types, qualitative and quantitative:


  • Qualitative inorganic analysis seeks to establish the presence of a given element or inorganic compound in a sample.
  • Qualitative organic analysis seeks to establish the presence of a given functional group or organic compound in a sample.


  • Quantitative analysis seeks to establish the amount of a given element or compound in a sample.


Most modern analytical chemistry is categorized by two different approaches such as analytical targets or analytical methods. Analytical Chemistry (journal) reviews two different approaches alternatively in the issue 12 of each year.

By Analytical Targets

  • Bioanalytical chemistry
  • Material analysis
  • Chemical analysis
  • Environmental analysis
  • Forensics

By Analytical Methods

Traditional analytical techniques

Although modern analytical chemistry is dominated by sophisticated instrumentation, the roots of analytical chemistry and some of the principles used in modern instruments are from traditional techniques many of which are still used today. These techniques also tend to form the backbone of most undergraduate analytical chemistry educational labs. Examples include:


Titration involves the addition of a reactant to a solution being analyzed until some equivalence point is reached. Often the amount of material in the solution being analyzed may be determined. Most familiar to those who have taken college chemistry is the acid-base titration involving a colour changing indicator. There are many other types of titrations, for example potentiometric titrations. These titrations may use different types of indicators to reach some equivalence point.


Gravimetric analysis involves determining the amount of material present by weighing the sample before and/or after some transformation. A common example used in undergraduate education is the determination of the amount of water in a hydrate by heating the sample to remove the water such that the difference in weight is due to the water lost.

Inorganic qualitative analysis

Inorganic qualitative analysis generally refers to a systematic scheme to confirm the presence of certain, usually aqueous, ions or elements by performing a series of reactions that eliminate ranges of possibilities and then confirms suspected ions with a confirming test. Sometimes small carbon containing ions are included in such schemes. With modern instrumentation these tests are rarely used but can be useful for educational purposes and in field work or other situations where access to state-of-the-art instruments are not available or expedient.

Instrumental Analysis

Block diagram of an analytical instrument showing the stimulus and measurement of response


Spectroscopy measures the interaction of the molecules with electromagnetic radiation. Spectroscopy consists of many different applications such as atomic absorption spectroscopy, atomic emission spectroscopy, ultraviolet-visible spectroscopy, infrared spectroscopy, Raman spectroscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, photoemission spectroscopy, Mössbauer spectroscopy and so on.

Mass Spectrometry

Mass spectrometry measures mass-to-charge ratio of molecules using electric and magnetic fields. There are several ionization methods: electron impact, chemical ionization, electrospray, matrix assisted laser desorption ionization, and others. Also, mass spectrometry is categorized by approaches of mass analyzers: magnetic-sector, quadrupole mass analyzer, quadrupole ion trap, Time-of-flight, Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance, and so on.


Crystallography is a technique that characterizes the chemical structure of materials at the atomic level by analyzing the diffraction patterns of usually x-rays that have been deflected by atoms in the material. From the raw data the relative placement of atoms in space may be determined.

Electrochemical Analysis

Electrochemistry measures the interaction of the material with an electric field.

Thermal Analysis

Calorimetry and thermogravimetric analysis measure the interaction of a material and heat.


Separation processes are used to decrease the complexity of material mixtures. Chromatography and electrophoresis are representative of this field.

Hybrid Techniques

Combinations of the above techniques produce "hybrid" or "hyphenated" techniques. Several examples are in popular use today and new hybrid techniques are under development. For example, Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, LC-MS, GC-IR, LC-NMR, CE-MS, and so on.

Hyphenated separation techniques refers to a combination of two (or more) techniques to detect and separate chemicals from solutions. Most often the other technique is some form of chromatography. Hyphenated techniques are widely used in chemistry and biochemistry. A slash is sometimes used instead of hyphen, especially if the name of one of the methods contains a hyphen itself.

Examples of hyphenated techniques:

  1. LC-MS (or HPLC-MS)
  3. LC- DAD
  4. CE-MS
  5. CE-UV
  6. GC-MS


The visualization of single molecules, single cells, biological tissues and nano- micro materials is very important and attractive approach in analytical science. Also, hybridization with other traditional analytical tools is revolutionizing analytical science. Microscopy can be categorized into three different fields: optical microscopy, electron microscopy, and scanning probe microscopy. Recently, this field is rapidly progressing because of the rapid development of computer and camera industries.


Miniaturized analytical instrumentation, which is also called as microfluidics or micro total analysis system (μTAS). The beauty of lab-on-a-chip system is that a whole device can be visualized under a microscope.

Methods and data analysis

Standard Curve

A standard method for analysis of concentration involves the creation of a calibration curve. This allows for determination of the amount of a chemical in a material by comparing the results of unknown sample to those of a series known standards.If the concentration of element or compound in a sample is too high for the detection range of the technique, it can simply be diluted in a pure solvent. If the amount in the sample is below an instrument's range of measurement, the method of addition can be used. In this method a known quantity of the element or compound under study is added, and the difference between the concentration added, and the concentration observed is the amount actually in the sample.

Internal Standards

Sometimes an internal standard is added at a known concentration directly to an analytical sample to aid in quantitation. The amount of analyte present is then determined relative to the internal standard as a calibrant.


Analytical chemistry research is largely driven by performance (sensitivity, selectivity, robustness, linear range, accuracy, precision, and speed), and cost (purchase, operation, training, time, and space). Among the main branches of contemporary analytical atomic spectrometry, the most widespread and universal are optical and mass spectrometry (see Prospects in Analytical Atomic Spectrometry). In the direct elemental analysis of solid samples, the new leaders are laser-induced breakdown and laser ablation mass spectrometry, and the related techniques with transfer of the laser ablation products into inductively coupled plasma. Advances in design of diode lasers and optical parametric oscillators promote developments in fluorescence and ionization spectrometry and also in absorption techniques where uses of optical cavities for increased effective absorption pathlength are expected to expand. Steady progress and growth in applications of plasma- and laser-based methods are noticeable. An interest towards the absolute (standardless) analysis has revived, particularly in the emission spectrometry.

A lot of effort is put in shrinking the analysis techniques to chip size. Although there are few examples of such systems competitive with traditional analysis techniques, potential advantages include size/portability, speed, and cost. (micro Total Analysis System (µTAS) or Lab-on-a-chip). Microscale chemistry reduces the amounts of chemicals used.

Much effort is also put into analyzing biological systems. Examples of rapidly expanding fields in this area are:

  • Genomics - DNA sequencing and its related research. Genetic fingerprinting and DNA microarray are very popular tools and research fields.
  • Proteomics - the analysis of protein concentrations and modifications, especially in response to various stressors, at various developmental stages, or in various parts of the body.
  • Metabolomics - similar to proteomics, but dealing with metabolites.
  • Transcriptomics- mRNA and its associated field
  • Lipidomics - lipids and its associated field
  • Peptidomics - peptides and its associated field
  • Metalomics - similar to proteomics and metabolomics, but dealing with metal concentrations and especially with their binding to proteins and other molecules.

Analytical chemistry has played critical roles in the understanding of basic science to a variety of practical applications, such as biomedical applications, environmental monitoring, quality control of industrial manufacturing, forensic science and so on.

The recent developments of computer automation and information technologies have innervated analytical chemistry to initiate a number of new biological fields. For example, automated DNA sequencing machines were the basis to complete human genome projects leading to the birth of genomics. Protein identification and peptide sequencing by mass spectrometry opened a new field of proteomics. Furthermore, a number of ~omics based on analytical chemistry have become important areas in modern biology.

Also, analytical chemistry has been an indispensable area in the development of nanotechnology. Surface characterization instruments, electron microscopes and scanning probe microscopes enables scientists to visualize atomic structures with chemical characterizations.

Analytical chemistry is pursuing the development of practical applications and commercial instruments rather than elucidating scientific fundamentals. This may be an arguable difference from overlapping science areas such as physical chemistry and biophysics, although there isn't any distinct boundaries among disciplines in contemporary science and technology. However, this aspect may attract many engineers' interest; thus, it is not difficult to see papers from engineering departments in analytical chemistry journals.

Among active contemporary analytical chemistry research fields, micro total analysis system is considered as a great promise of revolutionary technology. In this approach, integrated and miniaturized analytical systems are being developed to control and analyze single cells and single molecules. This cutting-edge technology has a promising potential of leading a new revolution in science as integrated circuits did in computer developments.

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