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Graphene Nano ‘Tweezers’ Developed
December 22, 2017

Researchers from the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering have found yet another remarkable use for the wonder material graphene—tiny electronic “tweezers” that can grab biomolecules floating in water with incredible efficiency. This capability could lead to a revolutionary handheld disease diagnostic system that could be run on a smart phone.

Atomically sharp edges of electrically driven graphene can act as “tweezers” that rapidly trap biomolecules from the surrounding solution. Credit: In-Ho Lee, University of Minnesota.

The graphene tweezers developed at the University of Minnesota are vastly more effective at trapping particles compared to other techniques used in the past due to the fact that graphene is a single atom thick, less than 1 billionth of a meter.

“Graphene is the thinnest material ever discovered, and it is this property that allows us to make these tweezers so efficient. No other material can come close,” said research team leader Sang-Hyun Oh, a Sanford P. Bordeau Professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “To build efficient electronic tweezers to grab biomolecules, basically we need to create miniaturized lightning rods and concentrate huge amount of electrical flux on the sharp tip. The edges of graphene are the sharpest lightning rods.”

The team also showed that the graphene tweezers could be used for a wide range of physical and biological applications by trapping semiconductor nanocrystals, nanodiamond particles, and even DNA molecules. Normally this type of trapping would require high voltages, restricting it to a laboratory environment, but graphene tweezers can trap small DNA molecules at around 1 Volt, meaning that this could work on portable devices such as mobile phones.

Another exciting prospect for this technology that separates graphene tweezers from metal-based devices is that graphene can also “feel” the trapped biomolecules. In other words, the tweezers can be used as biosensors with exquisite sensitivity that can be displayed using simple electronic techniques.

“Besides graphene, we can utilize a large variety of other two-dimensional materials to build atomically sharp tweezers combined with unusual optical or electronic properties,” said Prof. Oh. “It is really exciting to think of atomically sharp tweezers that can be used to trap, sense, and release biomolecules electronically. This could have huge potential for point-of-care diagnostics, which is our ultimate goal for this powerful device.”

The research study “Graphene-edge dielectrophoretic tweezers for trapping of biomolecules,” was published in Nature Communications.

The University of Minnesota research was funded primarily by the National Science Foundation and the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics.

This article reprinted from materials provided by the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering.

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