July 15, 2019 at 11:45am
Dane Lisser

Millikin student creates carbon electrodes using 3D printing

Carbon electrodes are a key component of electrochemistry. They are used for many electrochemical applications, ranging from investigating neurotransmitter movement in a brain to toxin detection in lake water.

Currently, many carbon electrodes are prepared in cleanrooms using expensive technologies such as photolithography, but what if customizable carbon electrodes could be made using 3-D printing? The research team of Dalton Glasco, a senior chemistry major at Millikin University, and Dr. Kyle Knust, assistant professor of chemistry, are spending the summer developing a simple and accessible strategy to make this happen.

Millikin 3D Printing Research

Dr. Knust and Glasco are among several student-professor partnerships this summer conducting research as part of Millikin's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program. The work to develop the carbon electrodes using 3-D printing was started by Glasco in 2018.

"Dalton is working on an alternative fabrication route for preparing pyrolyzed carbon electrodes," said Knust. "The goal is to prepare an electrode that mimics glassy carbon which is a material that electrochemists like to use for a diversity of applications."

Millikin 3D Printing Research

As part of his research, Glasco is using a computer software to create carbon electrode designs, which are then 3-D printed directly onto quartz using a carbon rich resin. The electrode is then transferred to a tube furnace and pyrolyzed – a process where material decomposition is heated to extreme temperatures.

"It provides a lower cost, more accessible route to preparing a customizable glassy carbon-type electrode," said Knust. "Instead of requiring a cleanroom and the infrastructure in the cleanroom, techniques like photolithography with a desktop 3-D printer – such as ours, and a tube furnace, you can prepare these electrodes yourself."

According to Knust, the 3-D printer used for this research costs $3,500, while a Class 1000 cleanroom can easily exceed $100,000. The costs of using equipment within a cleanroom can also increase the cost of producing the electrodes.


"Over the past year and a half, Dr. Knust and I have been working on this research," said Glasco, of Decatur, Ill. "It's really helped expand my knowledge, and after I finish graduate school, it will give me another technique that I can have under my belt."

Knust noted, "With this project, Dalton is getting exposure to a variety of different techniques. He's truly doing a graduate level research project as an undergraduate student."

Additionally, Dr. Knust received an invitation from the editor of ChemElectroChem, a top-ranking electrochemistry journal for primary research papers and critical secondary information, to submit a manuscript about the carbon electrode 3-D printing research.

Millikin 3D Printing Research

Glasco's efforts will focus on completing data collection for the publication, while the remaining work largely consists of improving the fabrication procedure to ensure reproducibility and further characterizing the pyrolyzed carbon electrodes prepared by 3-D printing.

"I think the Chemistry Department at Millikin excels in hands-on learning with our students," said Knust. "Whether it's cancer research or nanoparticle research, there is a diversity of projects occurring on campus."

Millikin 3D Printing Research

Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program

Millikin University's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program pairs a student with a faculty member to perform in-depth research throughout the summer months. An example of Performance Learning, the research is one of the "graduate level" opportunities undergraduates experience at Millikin.