Authors: Mamta Devi, Maria Vomero, Erwin Fuhrer, Elisa Castagnola, Calogero Gueli, Surabhi Nimbalkar, Mieko Hirabayashi, Sam Kassegne, Thomas Stieglitz and Swati Sharma
Publication: Journal of Neural Engineering
Date: September 3, 2021
Neural electrodes are primary functional elements of neuroelectronic devices designed to record neural activity based on electrochemical signals. These electrodes may also be utilized for electrically stimulating the neural cells, such that their response can be simultaneously recorded. In addition to being medically safe, the electrode material should be electrically conductive and electrochemically stable under harsh biological environments. Mechanical flexibility and conformability, resistance to crack formation and compatibility with common microfabrication techniques are equally desirable properties. Traditionally, (noble) metals have been the preferred for neural electrode applications due to their proven biosafety and a relatively high electrical conductivity. Carbon is a recent addition to this list, which is far superior in terms of its electrochemical stability and corrosion resistance. Carbon has also enabled 3D electrode fabrication as opposed to the thin-film based 2D structures. One of carbon's peculiar aspects is its availability in a wide range of allotropes with specialized properties that render it highly versatile. These variations, however, also make it difficult to understand carbon itself as a unique material, and thus, each allotrope is often regarded independently. Some carbon types have already shown promising results in bioelectronic medicine, while many others remain potential candidates. In this topical review, we first provide a broad overview of the neuroelectronic devices and the basic requirements of an electrode material. We subsequently discuss the carbon family of materials and their properties that are useful in neural applications. Examples of devices fabricated using bulk and nano carbon materials are reviewed and critically compared. We then summarize the challenges, future prospects and next-generation carbon technology that can be helpful in the field of neural sciences. The article aims at providing a common platform to neuroscientists, electrochemists, biologists, microsystems engineers and carbon scientists to enable active and comprehensive efforts directed towards carbon-based neuroelectronic device fabrication.