In chemistry, coprecipitation (CPT) or co-precipitation is the carrying down by a precipitate of substances normally soluble under the conditions employed. Analogously, in medicine, coprecipitation is specifically the precipitation of an unbound "antigen along with an antigen-antibody complex".
Coprecipitation is an important issue in chemical analysis, where it is often undesirable, but in some cases it can be exploited. In gravimetric analysis, which consists on precipitating the analyte and measuring its mass to determine its concentration or purity, coprecipitation is a problem because undesired impurities often coprecipitate with the analyte, resulting in excess mass. This problem can often be mitigated by "digestion" (waiting for the precipitate to equilibrate and form larger, purer particles) or by redissolving the sample and precipitating it again.
On the other hand, in the analysis of trace elements, as is often the case in radiochemistry, coprecipitation is often the only way of separating an element. Since the trace element is too dilute (sometimes less than a part per trillion) to precipitate by conventional means, it is typically coprecipitated with a carrier, a substance that has a similar crystalline structure that can incorporate the desired element. An example is the separation of francium from other radioactive elements by coprecipitating it with caesium salts such as caesium perchlorate. Otto Hahn is credited for promoting the use of coprecipitation in radiochemistry.
There are three main mechanisms of coprecipitation: inclusion, occlusion, and adsorption. An inclusion occurs when the impurity occupies a lattice site in the crystal structure of the carrier, resulting in a crystallographic defect; this can happen when the ionic radius and charge of the impurity are similar to those of the carrier. An adsorbate is an impurity that is weakly bound (adsorbed) to the surface of the precipitate. An occlusion occurs when an adsorbed impurity gets physically trapped inside the crystal as it grows.
Besides its applications in chemical analysis and in radiochemistry, coprecipitation is also "potentially important to many environmental issues closely related to water resources, including acid mine drainage, radionuclide migration in fouled waste repositories, metal contaminant transport at industrial and defense sites, metal concentrations in aquatic systems, and wastewater treatment technology"
- Patnaik, P. Dean's Analytical Chemistry Handbook, 2nd ed. McGraw-Hill, 2004.
- http://cancerweb.ncl.ac.uk/cgi-bin/omd?coprecipitation. Accessed 5/9/07.
- Harvey, D. Modern Analytical Chemistry. McGraw-Hill, 2000.
- http://www.cosis.net/abstracts/EAE03/06552/EAE03-J-06552-1.pdf . Accessed May 10, 2007.