Updates from Georgia Tech

Scientists Transform Barbecue Lighter Into a High-Tech Lab Device
By Josh Brown – Researchers have devised a straightforward technique for building a laboratory device known as an electroporator – which applies a jolt of electricity to temporarily open cell walls – from inexpensive components, including a piezoelectric crystal taken from a butane lighter.

Plans for the device, known as the ElectroPen, are being made available, along with the files necessary for creating a 3D-printed casing.

“Our goal with the ElectroPen was to make it possible for high schools, budget-conscious laboratories, and even those working in remote locations without access to electricity to perform experiments or processes involving electroporation,” said M. Saad Bhamla, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “This is another example of looking for ways to bypass economic limitations to advance scientific research by putting this capability into the hands of many more scientists and aspiring scientists.”

In a study reported January 10 in the journal PLOS Biology and sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, the researchers detail the method for constructing the ElectroPen, which is capable of generating short bursts of more than 2,000 volts needed for a wide range of laboratory tasks.

One of the primary jobs of a cell membrane is to serve as a protective border, sheltering the inner workings of a living cell from the outside environment.

But all it takes is a brief jolt of electricity for that membrane to temporarily open and allow foreign molecules to flow in — a process called electroporation, which has been used for decades in molecular biology labs for tasks ranging from bacterial detection to genetic engineering. more>

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