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The Van Deemter Equation

A Three-Act Play


Christa Colyer
Department of Chemistry
Wake Forest University


Developed for an upper-level undergraduate instrumental analysis course, this case actively engages students in an understanding of the abstract, often difficult to grasp, concepts of the van Deemter equation, important in the field of chemical separations. Students play the roles of stationary and mobile phases and solute molecules, and are asked to consider a series of questions that explore the reasons for their actions.


  • Understand the factors that contribute to separation efficiency and/or peak broadening in chromatography.
  • Learn that eddy diffusion is caused by non-uniform packing of chromatographic columns.
  • Learn that longitudinal diffusion is caused by the tendency of a solute species to diffuse from regions of high concentration to regions of low concentration.
  • Learn that mass transfer in the form of partitioning of the solute into the stationary phase does not occur instantaneously and depends on the solute’s partition and diffusion coefficients.


Van Deemter equation; eddy diffusion; stationary phase particles; solute molecules; longitudinal diffusion; mass transfer; chromatographic separation; chemical separation

Topical Areas


Educational Level

Undergraduate upper division



Type / Methods




Subject Headings

Analytical Chemistry  |   Chemistry (General)  |  

Date Posted


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