Detection Kit Displays Caffeine Concentrations Like a Traffic Light

PHOTO: Caffeine Orange measures the level of caffeine in your beverage.
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Most of us make a beeline for the coffee pot first thing in the morning. One cup turns into two, three, even four cups before the day is done. But what if each time you got your coffee, a little light went off telling you just how much caffeine was in each cup?

A new kit might be able to do just that. Caffeine Orange, developed by Young-Tae Chang from the National University of Singapore and Yoon-Kyoung Cho from the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea, takes a sample of your beverage and detects how much caffeine is in your coffee.

Users place a sample of their drink onto the kit. "You just take a green laser pointer and shine it on the kit," Chang told ABC News. An indicator molecule in the kit binds to the caffeine molecules and becomes fluorescent. "If there's a certain amount of caffeine, then the laser will shine orange in the drink." Drinks with no caffeine do not affect the green laser, while drinks with a moderate amount will shine yellow and those with a high amount will shine red-orange.

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From start to finish, the detection only takes about a minute. "You can test it and then decide whether or not to drink it before it gets cold," said Chang. In addition to being quick, he says that the kit should only cost a couple of dollars to make, though it is currently still only a prototype.

Dr. Christopher Holstege, the director of medical toxicology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, thinks that the science behind the kit is neat, but doesn't see it succeeding commercially. "Beverages already say how many milligrams of caffeine are in them," he said. "It's an interesting concept, but I'm not sure where it would have use to the public."

However, the technology could be useful if modified. Robert Kennedy, an analytical chemist at the University of Michigan, says that the kit's simple design and easy-to-read display means that it could be tinkered with to detect other contaminants, like arsenic.

"This sort of thing could be pitched towards developing countries as a diagnostic tool," he said. "As long as you're not color blind."

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