Researchers Use Espresso Machines for Complex Chemistry Experiments

Chemists are generally known to frequently visit the espresso machine while conducting late-night experiments, but until recently these trips were only undertaken for the caffeine boost.

Researchers used a low-cost espresso machine — rather than expensive analytical equipment — to detect PAHs in soil. Credit: Bart_Kowski/iStock/Thinkstock 

Recently, a research group reported in ACS’ Analytical Chemistry, that espresso machines are capable of executing a few complicated chemistry experiments, like testing for dangerous compounds in the environment in a cost-effective and rapid manner.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are known as a class of carcinogenic organic compounds present everywhere in the environment. PAHs are released by incomplete combustion of materials in waste incinerators, industrial plants, and forest fires. Researchers examine the levels of PAHs in sediment and soil by first extracting the compounds from a sample. This single process can go on for up to 16h and needs increased amounts of harmful solvents. New methods using high temperatures require much less solvent and are faster, but they require expensive laboratory equipment.

Hence, Francesc A. Esteve-Turrillas and colleagues ventured into examining whether an espresso machine, which rapidly provides hot liquid through a small quantity of coffee, or in this situation, soil, could extract PAHs in an efficient manner for additional analysis.

The research team filtered a soil sample through an espresso machine along with a minimal quantity of water and organic solvent. A conventional chromatography procedure was used to analyze the extracted sample in order to identify the amount of PAHs present. This process is performed within 11s. The findings obtained from the espresso procedure were comparable to those acquired with certified methods; however, the new method was found to be significantly faster and cost-effective. The team explains that this study highlights the fact that espresso makers are capable of being used as inexpensive alternatives in chemistry labs.

Currently, the researchers are performing tests to examine whether these espresso machines have the potential to both extract and analyze detergents, pharmaceuticals, and pesticides in environmental and food samples.

The researchers acknowledge financial support from the Generalitat Valenciana (government of Valencia) and Spain’s Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness.


Tell Us What You Think

Do you have a review, update or anything you would like to add to this news story?

Leave your feedback