Electromagnetic Biofabrication

Some mammalian and bacterial cells naturally fabricate complex three-dimensional structures with intricate architectures that cannot be replicated using traditional manufacturing approaches. We are developing techniques to control these biofabrication processes by manipulating cells, using electric fields, directing them to naturally produce complex nanostructures.  This gives us an unprecedented ability to control the nano-, micro-, and macro-scale properties of these biological materials.

The bacteria Acetobactor xylinum naturally (a) produce a dense random network of cellulose nanofibers. When cultured under the influence of an electric field (b), the cells are moved along field lines and produce a network of oriented fibers.

Microfluidic devices are used to precisely control the motion of the cells. Electric fields induce an electrokinetic force which drives the cells along fixed streamlines in the fluid.

Aligned networks of cellulose nanofibers can be produced one layer at a time in macro-scale environments such as a beaker enabling us to produce sheets large enough for mechanical testing and tissue engineering applications.

Electrokinetic forces can be easily adjusted by increasing or decreasing the electric field strength. This enables us to modify the materials micro- and nanostrucutre.