How do biological oceanographers identify the phytoplankton in water samples they collect at sea? They can use a technique called chromatography that separates the pigments that phytoplankton use for photosynthesis. The major groups of plankton contain different pigments, and those pigments produce a color spectrum when they separate by weight. Scientists can use this color spectrum “fingerprint” to identify the type of phytoplankton the pigments came from.
You can try your hand at chromatography at MLML’s Open House thanks to the Biological Oceanography lab! Did you know that pen ink is composed of many different pigments? Watch the ink separate into a spectrum of colors to see for yourself!