Scientists at the Pennsylvania State University (PSU) say they have completed development on a new manipulation device, which is about the size of a dime, and which can be used to manipulate living materials. The latter include blood cells and entire microorganisms, for example.
One of the interesting aspects of this device is that it uses sound waves to manipulate these objects. This qualifies it as an acoustic tweezers. Instruments from this class can be used for a variety of purposes, such as creating specific molecular arrangements, and so on.
Penn State bioengineers and biochemists are responsible for creating the new instrument. They believe that the sound wave-based acoustic tweezers will produce significant improvements in the field of biomedical research.
They add that the instrument is the first ever developed to be capable of manipulating the 1-millimeter Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) worm without touching it. This organism is widely used as a proxy for a variety of studies related to understanding human illnesses.
Apparently, the worm's development process also has a lot in common with our own, so this represents another important area of study. By using the novel acoustic tweezers, it may become easier for researchers to study these patterns, and potentially discover new cures against developmental disorders.
Penn State investigators say that their device relies on the use of ultrasounds, high-frequency waveforms that cannot be heard by humans. One of the key components in the machine is a piezoelectric material.
These are certain types of crystals and ceramics that react, when exposed to an electrical current, by changing their shape. Alternatively, deforming their initial structures produces electricity. Piezoelectrics are commonly found in lighters, as spark generators.
Details of the new device functions were published in this week's online issue of the esteemed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The research group was led by Penn State associate professor of bioengineering Tony Jun Huang, whose group specializes in acoustic tweezers.
“We believe the device can be easily manufactured at a cost far lower than say, optical tweezers, which use lasers to manipulate single particles. Optical tweezers require power densities 10,000,000 times greater than our acoustic tweezers, and the lasers can heat up and damage the cells, unlike ultrasound,” Huang says.
“For many biological systems, acoustic tweezers will provide an excellent tool to mimic the conditions inside the body where cells are subject to waves of pressure and pulses of chemicals,” the expert concludes.