Advanced Microtweezers Developed for Small-Scale Construction

There are countless applications for the device in new fields of science

By on January 18th, 2012 10:20 GMT

Microtweezers are devices that can be used to handle extremely small objects or structures. In a new development, experts create an advanced version of this instrument, one that can be used for a variety of applications, including manipulating live stem cells, creating advanced sensors and so on.

But the most important application could be in constructing very small structures, such as for example microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). These devices are extremely small, yet contain a relatively large number of moving parts. Needless to say, bringing them together is titanic work.

By using the new microtweezers, putting MEMS components together may become easier than ever, say investigators at the Purdue university. This could lead to the creation of cheaper, more advanced accelerometers and gyroscopes.

These devices exist even today, in consumer electronics such as cell phones, computer tablets and so on. As such, any innovation in MEMS performance could lead to improvements in these devices, too.

What researchers want to become capable of is developing a manufacturing technology that would allow for the components of more complex MEMS devices to be assembled just like you would build a LEGO structure. Each of the pieces would be moved individually using the microtweezers.

“We've shown how this might be accomplished easily, using new compact and user-friendly microtweezers to assemble polystyrene spheres into three-dimensional shapes,” explains Purdue associate professor of mechanical engineering Cagri Savran.

Mechanical engineering graduate students Bin-Da Chan and Farrukh Mateen, electrical and computer engineering graduate student Chun-Li Chang, and biomedical engineering PhD student Kutay Icoz were also a part of the Purdue team.

Details of the research appear in the December online issue of the industry Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems (JMEMS). The paper described the microtweezer as containing only a thimble knob from a micrometer, a tweezer made from silicon, and a graphite interface.

There are significant applications possible for these devices in biotechnology and stem cell research. Currently, sphere containing stem cells are studied in bulk, but the instrument may be used to move individual stem cells into various arrangements.

“We currently are working to weigh single micro particles, individually selected among many others, which is important because precise measurements of an object's mass reveal key traits, making it possible to identify composition and other characteristics,” Savran says.

“This will now be as easy as selecting and weighing a single melon out of many melons in a supermarket,” the expert concludes.

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