The multistage electromagnetic separator for purifying cells and magnetic particles (MAGSEP) is a laboratory apparatus for separating and/or purifying particles (especially biological cells) on the basis of their magnetic susceptibility and magnetophoretic mobility. Whereas a typical prior apparatus based on similar principles offers only a single stage of separation, the MAGSEP, as its full name indicates, offers multiple stages of separation; this makes it possible to refine a sample population of particles to a higher level of purity or to categorize multiple portions of the sample on the basis of magnetic susceptibility and/or magnetophoretic mobility.

The MAGSEP includes a processing unit and an electronic unit coupled to a personal computer. The processing unit includes upper and lower plates, a platerotation system, an electromagnet, an electromagnet-translation system, and a capture-magnet assembly. The plates are bolted together through a roller bearing that allows the plates to rotate with respect to each other. An interface between the plates acts as a seal for separating fluids. A lower cuvette can be aligned with as many as 15 upper cuvette stations for fraction collection during processing.

A two-phase stepping motor drives the rotation system, causing the upper plate to rotate for the collection of each fraction of the sample material. The electromagnet generates a magnetic field across the lower cuvette, while the translation system translates the electromagnet upward along the lower cuvette. The current supplied to the electromagnet, and thus the magnetic flux density at the pole face of the electromagnet, can be set at a programmed value between 0 and 1,400 gauss (0.14 T). The rate of translation can be programmed between 5 and 2,000 µm/s so as to align all sample particles in the same position in the cuvette.

The capture magnet can be a permanent magnet. It is mounted on an arm connected to a stepping motor. The stepping motor rotates the arm to position the capture magnet above the upper cuvette into which a fraction of the sample is collected.

The electronic unit includes a power switch, power-supply circuitry that accepts 110-Vac input power, an RS-232 interface, and status lights. The personal computer runs the MAGSEP software and controls the operation of the MAGSEP through the RS-232 interface. The status of the power, the translating electromagnet, the capture magnet, and the rotation of the upper plate are indicated in a graphical user interface on the computer screen.

This work was done by Ken Barton, Mark Ainsworth, Bruce Daily, Scott Dunn, Bill Metz, John Vellinger, Brock Taylor, and Bruce Meador of Space Hardware Optimization Technology, Inc., for Johnson Space Center.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

Space Hardware Optimization Technology, Inc.,
5605 Featherengill Road
Floyd Knobs, IN 47119
Phone: (812) 923-9591

Refer to MSC-23124, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the December, 2005 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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