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Another Reason to Love Coffee

The Spring 2022 National American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting held in San Diego, California, was a hybrid meeting that featured a wide range of science topics. The offerings showcased the vast diversity of the chemical sciences and the increasingly integrated nature of the projects. This piece focuses on the potential of used coffee grounds to be used in sensitive electrodes capable, one day, of detecting brain waves. 

Coffee grounds are a major component of biowaste. Making porous carbon suitable for electrochemical sensing is a useful way to recycle these castoffs from our morning brews. Brain activity is fast and can be measured using fast-scan cyclic voltammetry, an electrochemical technique that can measure activity as fast as 100 milliseconds. The typical electrodes for neuroscience sensing are fine carbon rods that are hard to make and require harsh chemicals. Recent observations show that porous carbon—carbon that has unique geometric pores—could increase sensing speeds.

The Ross Group at the University of Cincinnati turned to their love of coffee as a source of porous carbon. Coffee beans are a good carbon source. They are rich in cellulose and hemicellulose. After the members of the Ross Group enjoy their daily brew, they dry their coffee grounds, treat them with base (potassium hydroxide) to create porous carbon, and stabilize the porous carbon by drying it under nitrogen. The team then uses the porous carbon slurry to coat traditional electrodes. These coated electrodes trap analytes, such as dopamine, in holes in the surface coating. The trapped analytes interact longer with the electrode, which facilitates faster measurement of brain activity. Although principal investigator Ashley Ross admits that use of these electrodes in vivo is still a long way off, the work is promising, and her team has enjoyed the challenge of drinking enough coffee to keep them in starting materials.

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Recent publications by this group:

Metal Nanoparticle Modified Carbon-Fiber Microelectrodes Enhance Adenosine Triphosphate Surface Interactions with Fast-Scan Cyclic Voltammetry
Yuxin Li, Alexandra L. Keller, Michael T. Cryan, and Ashley E. Ross
DOI: 10.1021/acsmeasuresciau.1c00026

Real-Time Detection of Melatonin Using Fast-Scan Cyclic Voltammetry
Austin L. Hensley, Adam R. Colley, and Ashley E. Ross
DOI: 10.1021/acs.analchem.8b01976

Porous Carbon Nanofiber-Modified Carbon Fiber Microelectrodes for Dopamine Detection
Blaise J. Ostertag, Michael T. Cryan, Joel M. Serrano, Guoliang Liu, and Ashley E. Ross
DOI: 10.1021/acsanm.1c03933

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