Thin-layer chromatography is an offshoot of chromatography, a ubiquitous technique for analyzing chemical compounds. Because TLC is simple, rapid, and inexpensive, it is popular for monitoring organic-chemical reactions and measuring the purity of the result.

What TLC devotees probably don't know, though, is that the technique can actually provide even better results, for next to nothing in cost. Amber discovered this quite by accident. Three years ago, she was studying the image of a TLC result on a computer screen — and accidentally hit a button that triggered an action by Adobe Photoshop. One spot in the TLC image turned blue.

Amber spent the next two years tracking down what had happened. She found that by combining digital photography with TLC, she could tweak TLC results to reveal colors that aren't visible otherwise. This extra information can be used to produce multi-spectral scans, densitograms, and calibration curves — analyses previously available only with more expensive equipment. Amber then wrote a public-domain program, TLC Analyzer, that automatically collects the "hidden" data.

Apart from the TLC Analyzer software, all that's required to upgrade TLC to digitally enhanced TLC is a digital camera and an ultraviolet lamp. Just put a TLC plate under the UV light, snap a photo of it, load the image into a computer, and run Amber's software.

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Amber I. Hess


Women in Science Aren't All Geeks

Robert Louis Stevenson School
Pebble Beach, Calif.

Hobbies: Dancing, writing science fiction, video games

Ambition: Teaching for a few years, then high-tech industry