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Bacterium counteracts 'coffee ring effect'
Date:5/14/2013

Ever notice how a dried coffee stain has a thicker outer rim, while the middle of the stain remains almost unsoiled? This 'coffee ring effect' also occurs in other materials. Researchers from the Departments of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry at KU Leuven have now discovered how to counteract coffee rings with 'surfactants', i.e. soap. The key to the discovery was not a kitchen towel, but a bacterium that counteracts the coffee ring effect at the microscopic level. The findings were published in a recent edition of the leading journal Nature Communications.

When a coffee ring dries, its edges become noticeably darker and thicker. This occurs because the coffee particles move toward the edge of the stain while the water in the liquid evaporates. At a microscopic level, this coffee ring effect can also be seen in liquids with particles of other materials such as plastic and wood.

In various industrial applications applying an even coat of paint or varnish, for example the coffee ring effect can be particularly troublesome and scientists have long been seeking ways to counteract it. Raf De Dier and Wouter Sempels (Departments of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry) have now described a solution based on examples found in nature. De Dier and Sempels carried out experiments and calculations on nanomaterials as well as on a particularly promising bacterium, Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a dangerous bacterium that can cause infections in open wounds. "A Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria colony wants to find as large a breeding ground as possible. To avoid overconcentration on the edges of a wound when spreading itself during the drying-out process, the bacterium produces substances that counteract the coffee ring effect."

These surface-tension-disrupting substances are called surfactants. Detergents such as soap are also surfactants. "Add soap to a stain a coffee stain or any other
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Contact: Wouter Sempels
wouter.sempels@chem.kuleuven.be
32-016-327-399
KU Leuven
Source:Eurekalert

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