An introductory study using impedance spectroscopy technique with polarizable microelectrode for amino acids characterization

Rev Sci Instrum. 2018 Apr;89(4):045108. doi: 10.1063/1.5020076.


Portable, low power, yet ultra-sensitive life detection instrumentations are vital to future astrobiology flight programs at NASA. In this study, initial attempts to characterize amino acids in an aqueous environment by electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS) using polarizable (blocking) electrodes in order to establish a means of detection via their electrical properties. Seven amino acids were chosen due to their scientific importance in demonstrating sensitivity levels in the range of part per billion concentration. Albeit more challenging in real systems of analyst mixtures, we found individual amino acids in aqueous environment do exhibit some degree of chemical and physical uniqueness to warrant characterization by EIS. The polar amino acids (Asp, Glu, and His) exhibited higher electrochemical activity than the non-polar amino acids (Ala, Gly, Val, and Leu). The non-polar amino acids (Gly and Ala) also exhibited unique electrical properties which appeared to be more dependent on physical characteristics such as molecular weight and structure. At concentrations above 1 mM where the amino acids play a more dominant transport role within the water, the conductivity was found to be more sensitive to concentrations. At lower concentrations <1 mM, however, the polar amino acid solution conductivity remained constant, suggesting poor chemical activity with water. As revealed by equivalent circuit modeling, the relaxation times showed a 1-2 order of magnitude difference between polar and non-polar amino acids. The pseudo-capacitance from EIS measurements on sample mixtures containing salt water and individual amino acids revealed the possibility for improvement in amino acid selectivity using gold nanoporous surface enhanced electrodes. This work establishes important methodologies for characterizing amino acids using EIS combined with microscale electrodes, supporting the case for instrumentation development for life detection and origin of life programs.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / chemistry*
  • Dielectric Spectroscopy / instrumentation*
  • Electric Capacitance
  • Electric Impedance
  • Electroplating
  • Equipment Design
  • Gold Compounds
  • Microelectrodes*
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Sodium Chloride / chemistry
  • Stainless Steel
  • Water / chemistry


  • Amino Acids
  • Gold Compounds
  • Water
  • Stainless Steel
  • Sodium Chloride