Separations are usually thought of as a necessary evil required for developing data in support of other research goals. For instance, separations are often required to isolate a product or determine product purity. Separations are also used extensively in the analysis of biological or environmental samples. Separations can also be used as an auxiliary method for the determination of reaction rate constants. But how does one actually do “research” in separations? Where is the “science” in separations? This presentation will provide an answer to these questions.
Traditional chemical separation methods rely primarily on exploiting a single facet of all the potential ways in which molecules can interact. However, molecules are seldom so well-behaved with each other in the liquid or gas state so as to interact through only one interaction mode. The same intermolecular interactions responsible for the phase behavior of pure substances (e.g., dispersion, hydrogen bonding, dipole-dipole, dipole-induced dipole, electrostatic, etc) can be creatively exploited to accomplish the desired separations. Further, separation techniques are also incredibly sensitive tools for investigating and amplifying subtle differences in intermolecular interactions. In some ways, the separation system reflects the global interactions between the solute and the separation system, which acts as a molecular amplifier of these interactions. Examples from current research will be used to illustrate these points.