(from Greek χρῶμα chroma "color" and γράφειν graphein "to write") is the collective term for a set of laboratory techniques for the separation of mixtures. It involves passing a mixture dissolved in a "mobile phase" through a stationary phase, which separates the analyte to be measured from other molecules in the mixture based on differential partitioning between the mobile and stationary phases. Subtle differences in a compound's partition coefficient result in differential retention on the stationary phase and thus changing the separation. Chromatography may be preparative or analytical. The purpose of preparative chromatography is to separate the components of a mixture for further use (and is thus a form of purification). Analytical chromatography is done normally with smaller amounts of material and is for measuring the relative proportions of analytes in a mixture. The two are not mutually exclusive.
The history of chromatography begins during the mid-19th century. Chromatography, literally "color writing", was used-and named- in the first decade of the 20th century, primarily for the separation of plant pigments such as chlorophyll. New types of chromatography developed during the 1930s and 1940s made the technique useful for many types of separation process. Chromatography became developed substantially as a result of the work of Archer John Porter Martin and Richard Laurence Millington Synge during the 1940s and 1950s. They established the principles and basic techniques of partition chromatography, and their work encouraged the rapid development of several types of chromatography method: paper chromatography, gas chromatography, and what would become known as high performance liquid chromatography. Since then, the technology has advanced rapidly. Researchers found that the main principles of Tsvet's chromatography could be applied in many different ways, resulting in the different varieties of chromatography described below. Simultaneously, advances continually improved the technical performance of chromatography, allowing the separation of increasingly similar molecules.