Fast voltammetry of metals at carbon-fiber microelectrodes: copper adsorption onto activated carbon aids rapid electrochemical analysis
Rapid, in situ trace metal analysis is essential for understanding many biological and environmental processes. For example, trace metals are thought to act as chemical messengers in the brain. In the environment, some of the most damaging pollution occurs when metals are rapidly mobilized and transported during hydrologic events (storms). Electrochemistry is attractive for in situ analysis, primarily because electrodes are compact, cheap and portable. Electrochemical techniques, however, do not traditionally report trace metals in real-time. In this work, we investigated the fundamental mechanisms of a novel method, based on fast-scan cyclic voltammetry (FSCV), that reports trace metals with sub-second temporal resolution at carbon-fiber microelectrodes (CFMs). Electrochemical methods and geochemical models were employed to find that activated CFMs rapidly adsorb copper, a phenomenon that greatly advances the temporal capabilities of electrochemistry. We established the thermodynamics of surface copper adsorption and the electrochemical nature of copper deposition onto CFMs and hence identified a unique adsorption-controlled electrochemical mechanism for ultra-fast trace metal analysis. This knowledge can be exploited in the future to increase the sensitivity and selectivity of CFMs for fast voltammetry of trace metals in a variety of biological and environmental models.