Considering a wide variety of chromatographic columns used for (U)HPLC based on

  • phase type (normal or reverse);
  • column dimensions (geometry, length, inner diameter);
  • particle material $(\ce{SiO2},$ $\ce{ZrO2},$ $\ce{TiO2},\ldots),$ size, shape and porosity;
  • dopants/modifiers etc.,

as well as proprietary manufacturing techniques involved, is there a narrowed-down list of the bare-minimum column types that every analytical lab doing specifically liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry must have to cover the majority of the analytical routines (qualitative and quantitative analysis of short-chain fatty acids, primary metabolites, amino acids etc.)?

Background: a new LC-MS/MS lab is being created within a university's biochemistry division from the ground up both for the fundamental research and providing analytical services, so listing the most versatile and recent columns would be appreciated. I do realize the question is borderline off-topic being somewhat opinion-based, so it would be nice if the answer were based on a trustworthy source.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Would it suffice to provide an academic review article on the topic, or maybe even a vendor-sponsored review: americanlaboratory.com/… ? $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn
    Commented Feb 12, 2020 at 16:48
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You really might get a lot of mileage from talking to a vendor (even if they might want to sell you more than you need): thermofisher.com/se/en/home/industrial/chromatography/… $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn
    Commented Feb 12, 2020 at 17:00
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @BuckThorn Call up all vendors. Their salespeople will cue up at your door, and each of them knows best about the shortcomings of their competitors products. ;) $\endgroup$
    – Karl
    Commented Feb 12, 2020 at 22:08
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    $\begingroup$ I think it matters if the new lab will be primarily a university or college facility for professors and their research students or if the lab is primarily intended to provide wide ranging analytical services to various paying clients. I assume the latter, in which case it would be helpful to know what service needs are presently not being met or are lacking in the prospective service area. In any event, congratulations for having such a pleasant problem to solve! $\endgroup$
    – Ed V
    Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 1:20

1 Answer 1


This answer will change fairly frequently because technologies are always improving. These days, I think a bare minimum list might be something like:

  1. a 2.1 mm × 50 mm C18 column for rapid reversed-phase methods.
  2. a 2.1 mm × 150 mm C18 column for slower, broader-coverage reversed phase methods.
  3. a 2.1 mm × 50 mm HILIC column for rapid methods to detect polar metabolites.
  4. a 2.1 mm × 150 mm HILIC column for slower, broader-coverage methods to detect polar metabolites.

Some further notes:

  • If your lab is going to use ion-pairing based methods, you will probably want separate columns for ion-pairing methods and "clean" methods without ion-pairing reagent. Ion-pairing agents like tributylamine and/or perfluoroheptanoic acid are very difficult/impossible to remove from columns once they have been used for this purpose.

  • Fairly soon the best answer might be to use 1.0 mm diameter columns instead of the "standard" 2.1 mm diameter that is most common nowadays.

  • The most widely used HILIC column seems to the "BEH Amide" column chemistry from Waters. Following close behind may be ZIC-HILIC from SeQuant and/or Agilent's HILIC-Z chemistry.

  • For C18 chromatography, performance differences between different vendors are comparatively minor (although real). A wide variety of chemistries are used.


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