Most likely you’ve used tweezers to take out a tough splinter. Now, engineers are taking the humble tweezer to a whole new level with tweezers so small and precise they can grab individual molecules.
It may sound impossible, but the newly developed “nanotweezers”, built by engineers at Vanderbilt University, are capable of grabbing individual biomolecules and proteins without damaging them. Existing optical tweezers could trap and manipulate tiny objects using highly-focused lasers but couldn’t grab anything smaller than a red blood cell.
The tweezers, technically called opto-thermo-electrohydrodynamic tweezers (OTET), use a laser to trap and lift individual objects as small as ten nanometers. According to lead researcher Justus Ndukaife, this gives us “the ability to understand the way our DNA and other biological molecules behave in great detail, on a singular level.”
So what does this mean for humans? Not only can we learn more about the intricate details of our cellular makeup, but researchers are also hopeful that the new technology will help diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s in earlier stages. Using the tweezers, doctors would theoretically be able to spot the proteins associated with the disease earlier.
The potential uses for this new technology are endless. As Ndukaife puts it, “The sky is the limit when it comes to the applications of OTET.”