Scientists have developed a technology to make the normally brittle material of glass bend and flex, adding a new level of flexibility to the microscopic world of medical devices.

The research at Brigham Young University in the U.S. opens up the ability to create a new family of lab-on-a-chip devices based on flexing glass.

“If you keep the movements to the nanoscale, glass can still snap back into shape,” said Aaron Hawkins, Professor at Brigham Young University.

“We have 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,” said Professor Hawkins.

Nanoscale work

While current membrane devices effectively function at the microscale, Professor Hawkins’ research will allow equally effective work at the nanoscale.

Chemists and biologists could use the nanoscale devices to move, trap and analyse very small biological particles like proteins, viruses and DNA.

According to lead study author John Stout, glass is stiff and solid and not a material upon which things react, it is easy to clean, and it is not toxic.

“Glass is clean for sensitive types of samples, like blood samples,” Mr. Stout said.

“Working with this glass device will allow us to look at particles of any size and at any given range. It will also allow us to analyse the particles in the sample without modifying them,” Mr. Stout added.

The researchers believe their device could also mean performing successful tests using much smaller quantities of a substance.

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