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NSF CMMI: Mechanical Phenotyping of Cells: Haptics-Enabled Atomic Force Microscopy


Carol Keefer

Funding Agency 

National Science Foundation


The research objective of this award is to investigate novel approaches for using Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), combined with haptic (sense of touch) feedback, to mechanically phenotype and monitor individual cells. To enable this, one of the primary tasks in this project will be to develop a magnetically levitated haptic feedback device with near zero friction and sufficient fidelity so that a user can ?feel? individual cells. Furthermore, in the AFM studies, we will monitor the stiffness of the different cell types for both local and global responses. For global stiffness measurements, we will use modified AFM cantilevers whereby the diameter of the ball at the tip will be significantly larger than that of the cell. We will use localized measurements to understand the variation in the stiffness at various locations on the cell surface for each type of cell. We will use the Hertz contact model to quantify the mechanical response of the cell for local and global cell probing tasks. Such studies will help us to create a database of the mechanical properties of the cells. Combing haptic feedback with the AFM and understanding the effectiveness of the haptic device in mechanically phenotyping cells is the end-goal of this project.

This research will lead to the development of improved methods of targeting embryonic stem cell differentiation for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes and monitoring cellular responses to environmental stimuli.

Mechanical Phenotyping of Cells: Haptics-Enabled Atomic Force Microscopy is a four-year, $215K grant.