What is GC Headspace?

What is GC Headspace?

Nov. 29th, 2018
Gas chromatography (GC) is a potent analytical method utilized in many fields, including forensic science, food and beverage analysis, environmental analysis, and medicines. The GC headspace variant has special characteristics for the study of volatile and semi-volatile substances.

Simple Definition
'Headspace' is the gas space above the sample in a chromatography vial. Volatile sample components diffuse into the gas phase, forming the headspace gas. 
Headspace analysis is therefore the analysis of the components present in that gas.

Principle of Operation

GC headspace works on the principle that equilibrium must exist between volatile analytes in the sample matrix and the headspace above it, known as vial or container-borne gas phase present within it. As heated samples vaporize into their respective headspaces.

A small sample of headspace is collected via syringe or sampling system and injected into a gas chromatography system for analysis. A gas chromatograph column separates individual components based on their volatility while an FID or MS detector quantifies and identifies separated compounds.


Headspace gas chromatography is most suited to the analysis of the very light volatiles in samples that can be efficiently partitioned into the headspace gas volume from the liquid or solid matrix sample. Higher boiling volatiles and semi-volatiles are not detectable with this technique due to their low partition in the gas headspace volume. Partitioning is covered in more detail later in this article.

Headspace gas analysis also lends itself to automation for quality control or sample screening. This is made possible by modern instrumentation, through which highly reproducible samples can be prepared in an efficient and accurate manner.

Complex sample matrices, which may be difficult to analyse directly or would otherwise require sample extraction or preparation, are ideal candidates for headspace since they can be placed directly in a vial with little or no preparation. This saves both time and money.


Headspace GC is used for the analysis of volatile and semi-volatile organics in solid, liquid and gas samples. The popularity of this technique has grown over recent years and has now gained worldwide acceptance for analyses of alcohols in blood and residual solvents in pharmaceutical products.

Other common applications include industrial analyses of monomers in polymers and plastic, flavour compounds in beverages and food products, and fragrances in perfumes and cosmetics.


Gas chromatography's GC headspace method is useful because it enables the analysis of volatile and semi-volatile substances without the need for direct sample input. It has shown to be a useful tool for assessing complicated matrices while streamlining sample preparation and boosting sensitivity, with applications in a variety of sectors. Researchers and analysts may ensure product quality, safety, and regulatory compliance in a variety of industries by utilizing the power of GC headspace to get insightful knowledge on the composition of volatile molecules.

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