Major obstacles to formulating a simple retention mechanism for reversed-phase liquid chromatography have a direct impact on the development of experimental methods for column characterization as they limit our capability to understand observed differences in retention at a system level. These problems arise from the heterogeneous composition of the stationary phase, the difficulty of providing a working definition for the phase ratio, and uncertainty as to whether the distribution mechanism for varied compounds is a partition, adsorption or mixed (combination) of these models. Retention factor and separation factor measurements offer little guidance as they represent an average of various and variable contributing factors that can only be interpreted by assuming a specific model. Column characterization methods have tended to ignore these difficulties by inventing a series of terms to describe column properties, such as hydrophobicity, hydrophilicity, silanol activity, steric resistance, etc., without proper definition. This has allowed multiple scales to be proposed for the same property which generally are only weakly correlated. Against this background we review the major approaches for the characterization of alkylsiloxane-bonded silica stationary phases employing prototypical compounds, the hydrophobic-subtraction model and the solvation parameter model. Those methods using prototypical compounds are limited by the lack of compounds with a singular dominant interaction. The multivariate approaches that extract column characteristic properties from the retention of varied compounds are more hopeful but it is important to be more precise in defining the characteristic column properties and cognizant that general interpretation of these properties for varied columns cannot escape the problem of a poor understanding of the distribution mechanism.
Keywords: Alkylsiloxane-bonded silica stationary phases; Column classification; Hydrophobic-subtraction model; Prototypical test compounds; Reversed-phase liquid chromatography; Selectivity; Solvation parameter model; System maps.
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