In some respects, acoustic tweezers are comparable to optical tweezers — the gold standard of manipulation devices — which use lasers to trap and move nano and microscale objects. Acoustic tweezers, however, are simpler, cheaper and considerably less bulky. And because their power density is as much as 10,000,000 times lower than optical tweezers’, they are less likely to damage biological objects.
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The device, developed in the bioengineering lab of Tony Jun Huang at Penn State University, uses ultrasound to capture and control miniscule items like the one-millimeter long roundworm known as Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), a remarkable little creature.
A multicellular organism whose genome has been sequenced, scientists consider C. elegans an ideal model for studying diseases and development in higher animals, including humans. Because C. elegans is transparent, scientists find it easy to observe its life cycle as it grows from an embryo into adulthood.
This miniaturized ultrasound tool should make the study of C. elegans even simpler. The set of acoustic tweezers is the first technology capable of trapping and manipulating C. elegans without touching it.
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