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Color Writing: Analyzing Fuel to Keep Jets Flying High

Using a process called chromatography (or color writing), chemists are able to break out all the components in a mixture. Dye makers use this technique to separate the different pigments in their dyes, but the process is also valuable in crime and environmental research. In an Air Force research laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, scientists are using chromatography to analyze the hundreds of different compounds in jet fuel. Most are hydrocarbon chains—carbons with hydrogens—and jet fuels need to be a precise blend of these. Using chromatography, chemists are helping to develop more efficient fuels for the Air Force. “I like what I do because I can see where my research goes,” says research chemist Milissa Lawson. “I can look up in the sky and see a jet plane and you know that some of what you did is what is on that plane.”

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