CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - In a feat that seems like something out of a microscopic version of Star Trek, MIT researchers have found a way to use a tractor beam of light to pick up, hold, and move around individual cells and other objects on the surface of a microchip.
The new technology could become an important tool for both biological research and materials research, say Matthew J. Lang and David C. Appleyard, whose work is being published in an upcoming issue of the journal Lab on a Chip. Lang is an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Engineering and the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Appleyard is a graduate student in Biological Engineering.
The idea of using light beams as tweezers to manipulate cells and tiny objects has been around for at least 30 years. But the MIT researchers have found a way to combine this powerful tool for moving, controlling and measuring objects with the highly versatile world of microchip design and manufacturing.
Optical tweezers, as the technology is known, represent one of the world's smallest microtools, says Lang. Now, we're applying it to building [things] on a chip.
Says Appleyard, We've shown that you could merge everything people are doing with optical trapping with all the exciting things you can do on a silicon waferThere could be lots of uses at the biology-and-electronics interface.
For example, he said, many people are studying how neurons communicate by depositing them on microchips where electrical circuits etched into the chips monitor their electrical behavior. They randomly put cells down on a surface, and hope one lands on [or near] a [sensor] so its activity can be measured. With [our technology], you can put the cell right down next to the sensors. Not only can motions be precisely controlled with the device, but it can also provide very precise measurements of a cell's position.
Optical tweezers use the tiny force of a beam of light fro
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Massachusetts Institute of Technology