Sometimes, it really is the little things. Physicists at the University of Texas at Arlington have developed a new fiber-optic spanner that will help scientists work more efficiently at a microscopic level.
The spanner, or wrench, will allow scientists to rotate objects such as living cells at any axis, making for a fuller view than current methods that also utilize fiber-optic rotation.
Scientists can use the wrench to manipulate DNA molecules and untwist them to speed up sequencing.
In the report titled “Fiber-optic spanner,” a team led by UT Arlington assistant physics professor Samarendra Mohanty details how the new wrench could allow for cancer cells to be viewed better during rotation.
Mohanty co-authored the article published in the December 15 issue of Optics Letters with doctoral student Bryan Black.
The wrench works by putting two fiber-optic cables on each side of the microscopic object; then, through a process called counter propagation, laser beams from the cables trap and rotate the object. (Watch the video of the wrench manipulating a smooth human cell.)
Because they can vary the speed of the lasers and their location, scientists can use the wrench to manipulate DNA molecules and untwist them to speed up sequencing.
“This technique overcomes many of the challenges to working with optically trapped microscopic objects and has numerous possibilities for nanotechnology and biotechnology,” Mohanty said in a statement. “It is widely applicable because it is not limited by the sample’s shape and does not require any mechanical motion of the fiber.
“Also, because the tools are fiber-optic, they can be used at a larger depth inside closed environment such as the body.”