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ETH Zurich Develops Robotic Arm with Ultrasonic Glass Needle

In a groundbreaking development, researchers at ETH Zurich have bridged the gap between microscopic robotics and fluidic manipulation by introducing a novel robotic arm integrated with an ultrasonically actuated glass needle. This innovative system marks a significant advancement in microfluidic technologies, offering unprecedented capabilities for precise liquid handling and particle manipulation.

Conventionally, microscopic robotic systems lacked the versatility of moving arms, limiting their application scope. However, the integration of an ultrasonic glass needle with a robotic arm revolutionizes the field by enabling mechanical work and programmable tasks, thereby enhancing automation in microrobotic and microfluidic applications.

The core of this pioneering system comprises a delicate glass needle and a piezoelectric transducer, inducing ultrasonic oscillations in the needle. Leveraging principles akin to ultrasound imaging, the oscillating needle generates intricate vortex patterns when immersed in liquids, facilitating tasks such as mixing highly viscous liquids and pumping fluids through mini-channels with unparalleled efficiency.

Professor Daniel Ahmed, leading the research team, underscores the multifaceted capabilities of this robotic-assisted acoustic device. "Our method not only enables efficient mixing of viscous liquids but also allows for precise fluid pumping and particle trapping," explains Ahmed. "This breakthrough technology bridges the gap between conventional robotics and microfluidics, offering a versatile platform for diverse applications."

The applications of this innovative system extend beyond laboratory analysis to encompass various fields, including biotechnology and additive manufacturing. By enabling precise manipulation of microscopic particles and fluids, the robotic arm opens avenues for sorting tiny objects, introducing DNA into individual cells, and advancing additive manufacturing techniques.

Ahmed envisions a future where microfluidic systems resemble today's robotic systems, streamlining tasks through programmable devices capable of handling diverse applications. "With our robotic arm, tomorrow's microfluidic chips can be standardized, eliminating the need for custom development," says Ahmed. "Our ongoing research aims to further enhance the system's capabilities by integrating multiple glass needles for complex vortex manipulation."

As ETH Zurich pioneers the convergence of robotics and microfluidics, the potential for transformative applications in research, biotechnology, and manufacturing becomes increasingly tangible. The integration of ultrasonic glass needle technology heralds a new era of precision and efficiency in microscopic manipulation, propelling innovation across interdisciplinary domains.

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