Engineers and physicians at the University of Pennsylvania have developed a carbon nanopipette thousands of times thinner than a human hair that measures electric current and delivers fluids into cells. The tiny carbon-based tool can probe cells with minimal intrusion and injects fluids without damaging or inhibiting cell growth.

The tiny carbon-based pipettes were developed by a team led by Haim Bau, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics at Penn. They are stronger and more rigid than glass micropipettes, which are fragile at small scales, can cause irreparable cell damage, and cannot be used as injectors and electrodes simultaneously. The carbon pipette has a flexible tip that recovers its initial shape after being pressed against a surface, and is able to penetrate muscle cells, carcinoma cells, and neurons.

Researchers believe the pipettes will be useful for concurrently measuring electrical signals of cells during fluid injection. And, because the pipettes are transparent to x-rays and electrons, they could be used for molecular-level imaging.

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