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Super-flexible glass created for medical devices

The new material has been created by electrical engineering professors. The scientists have taken glass, which is normally a brittle material, and made it bend and flex. The main aim is to create a new generation of lab-on-a-chip devices. A lab-on-a-chip refers to a device that integrates several laboratory functions on a single integrated circuit (the “chip”). This allows researchers to achieve automation and high-throughput screening, running many tests against a molecule or complete drug at the same time. This means they act as “micro total analysis systems”.

The new glass has come from Professor Aaron Hawkins, who works at Brigham Young University. Explaining the technology, Professor Hawkins says: “If you keep the movements to the nanoscale, glass can still snap back into shape.”

He adds: “We’ve created glass membranes that can move up and down and bend. They are the first building blocks of a whole new plumbing system that could move very small volumes of liquid around.” The membranes are intended for a new generation of microfluidic systems and devices. Examples of testing application include pathogen screening and assessing human health, such as cholesterol testing.

The reasons for selecting glass are several. Glass is durable and transparent; it is also easy to clean, inert and, importantly for biological examinations, it is non-toxic. This makes it ideal for examining things like red and white blood cells.

The new devices based on the flexible glass will be used to move, trap and analyze very small biological particles such as proteins, viruses and DNA, on the nanoscale. By working at this level far fewer quantities of material are required. It should also be possible to speed up analysis, creating devices that can provide test results quickly and also devices that can be taken to the location where the test is required rather than with samples having to be shipped off to a laboratory.

The research has been published in the journal Applied Physics Letters. The research paper is titled “Electrostatically actuated membranes made from silica thin films.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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