Thin-layer chromatography (TLC) has a myriad of separation applications in chemistry, biology, and pharmacology due to its simplicity and low cost. While benchtop laboratory sample application and detection systems for TLC provide accurate quantitation of TLC spot positions and densities, there are many applications where inexpensive and portable instruments would greatly expand the applicability of the technology. In this work, we demonstrate identity verification and concentration determination of pharmaceutical compounds via TLC using a custom 3D-printed cradle that interfaces with an ordinary mobile phone. The cradle holds the mobile phone's internal, rear-facing camera in a fixed position relative to a UV lamp and a TLC plate that includes a phosphor in the stationary phase. Analysis of photographs thus reveals the locations and intensities of principal spots of UV--absorbing drugs. Automated image analysis software determines the center location and density of dark spots, which, using integrated calibration spots of known drug compounds and concentrations, can be used to determine if a drug has been diluted or substituted. Two independent image processing approaches have been developed that may be selected based upon the processing capabilities of the smartphone. Each approach is able to discern 5% drug concentration differences. Using single-component solutions of nevirapine, amodiaquine, and paracetamol that have been manually applied, the mobile phone-based detection instrument provides measurements that are equivalent to those obtained with a commercially available lab-based desktop TLC densitometer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-93
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis
StatePublished - Jun 5 2016


  • Densitometry
  • Falsified drug detection
  • Mobile phone sensing
  • Pharmaceutical compound analysis
  • Thin-layer chromatography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Drug Discovery
  • Spectroscopy
  • Clinical Biochemistry


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