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INVENTING THE FUTURE: Optofluidics to release groundbreaking 'NanoTweezers'


In 2010, a Cornell University-led research team made a technological breakthrough: Tiny beams of light reached into a microscope slide and grabbed a cellular protein without significantly altering the protein’s environment. Scientists were already capable of grasping a whole cell using optical tweezers, but a protein is up to 5,000 times smaller and in constant rapid motion—it’s also critical to our understanding of physiology and disease.
Thanks to Optofluidics, research labs will finally be able to pin down this elusive element. The company, a tenant of the University City Science Center, licenses Cornell’s technology and is currently marketing the "Molecular NanoTweezer." They will launch their product within six months, and are hiring a nanobiotech applications engineer.
According to Rob Hart, co-founder and chief technical officer at Optofluidics, commercializing a new technology is a "heck of a lot of work." In the confines of the academic laboratory, a ten percent success rate is considered an achievement. The real world, however, is a far messier place, and a marketable product needs to work consistently.
Optofluidics partnered with NextFab Studio on a range of custom parts and developed their system design in conjunction with Horsham-based Avo Photonics. They’ve accumulated $580,000 in private investment from the Ben Franklin Nanotechnology Institute and BioAdvance, along with $1.5 million in federal and foundation grants.
Nanotechnology has broad implications for the spectrum of scientific research--it can be used to make new medicines, create more efficient solar panels or build better bike frames. For health sciences, the Molecular NanoTweezer enables the increasingly popular field of single-molecule research. "It sounds advanced because it is," says Hart. "It’s a really cutting edge way of moving things around."
According to Hart, pharmaceutical companies and several large universities, including Drexel, Penn, Princeton and Cornell, have expressed interest in purchasing the product upon it’s release.

Source: Rob Hart, Optofluidics
Writer: Dana Henry
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