Biological Micro- and Nanotechnology

Our research is centered about the use of micro- and nanotechnology for quantitative biophysical and biochemical measurements. We aim to contribute to an understanding of structures and dynamic processes in cells and sub-cellular components through new methods for characterization and manipulation at the micrometer and nanometer scale.

Research in our group currently focuses on three areas, all of which combine elements of physics, biology, and engineering:


1. Nanomechanical mass sensing: Liquid-filled micromechanical resonators recently have enabled the direct weighing of single cells and sub-monolayers of proteins in fluid with a resolution better than 1 fg (10-15 g) - approximately the (buoyant) mass of a single virus.1-3 We now aim to translate this method to the nanoscale where sensitivity can be improved by more than three orders of magnitude. Applications of this technology include the label-free real-time measurement of biomolecular interactions with high sensitivity and the direct weighing of suspended particles ten to one hundred nanometers in size, such as viruses, organelles, and protein aggregates associated with many neurodegenerative diseases.

[1] Burg, T. P.*, M. Godin*, W. Shen, G. Carlson, J. S. Foster, K. Babcock, and S. R. Manalis: Weighing of Biomolecules, Single Cells, and Single Nanoparticles in Fluid; Nature, 446, 1066-1069 (2007)
[2] Burg, T. P., A. R. Mirza, N. Milovic, C. H. Tsau, G. A. Popescu, J. S. Foster, and S. R. Manalis: Vacuum-Packaged Suspended Microchannel Resonant Mass Sensor for Biomolecular Detection; Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems, 15 16, 1466-1476 (2006)
[3] Burg, T. P. and S. R. Manalis: Suspended microchannel resonators for biomolecular detection; Applied Physics Letters, 83 13 (2003), 2698-2700 (2003)


2. Microdevices for microscopy: Microfluidic and micromechanical devices enable precise control and rapid alteration of the physical and chemical environment of biological samples. This provides intriguing opportunities for the observation of dynamic processes. We also investigate the application of unique physical effects at small scales to enable new and improved modes of sample preparation for correlative light and electron microscopy.

[1] Mejia, X. Y., Feindt, H., Zhang, D., Steltenkamp, S., Burg, T. P.: Microfluidic Cryofixation for Correlative Microscopy; Lab on a Chip (2014), DOI: 10.1039/C4LC00333K


3. Micro-/Nanofluidic systems for quantitative measurements: Quantitative measurements with high throughput play a central role in modern cell biology, proteomics, and genetics. Measurement science and technology, however, lags behind the demands of those fields, and obtaining critical data is often prohibitively laborious or impossible because adequate assays do not exist. We seek to address some of these challenges through the integration of micro-/nanofluidic technologies for separation, detection, and automated liquid handling at the nanoliter scale.

Press Releases & Research News

Crisp images of cold cells

A research team headed by Thomas Burg of the MPI for Biophysical Chemistry have developed a new immersion objective which enables the observation of cryo-fixed cells with light microscopy. The results will be of great value for correlative light and electron microscopy and for pushing the limits of superresolution light microscopy at cryogenic temperature. more

Jahrbuchbeitrag (2012)
Nano particles on the scales
A wide variety of problems in science and technology is concerned with the study of biological and synthetic nanoparticles. Being less than one hundred nanometers in size, such objects often elude conventional techniques of detection and measurement. Nanofluidic resonators have recently enabled the direct weighing of single nanoparticles and the measurement of size distributions in complex liquid samples. Such measurements are important to help advance our understanding of many fundamental processes in biophysics, medicine, biology, biotechnology. (in German) more
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