Professor Michael W. Berns, Ph.D., Department of Biomedical Engineering in The Henry Samueli School of Engineering, and his research team have had an article published online in the Nature Photonics journal and it is the cover story of the journals January 2012 print issue.
Berns and his colleagues use an optically driven micromotor to study the control of nerve fiber movement called axons. The micromotor relies on the use of circularly polarized light with angular momentum to trap and spin a birefringent particle to create a controlled amount of microfluidic shear force against a living cell. Berns and his team of researchers demonstrated that the growth of a single nerve cell turns in a specific direction related to the micromotor spin direction and subsequent microfluidic flow direction. This is the first study to demonstrate that fluid shear forces can cause the turning of a nerve fiber and that there are “right turn” and “left turn” responses depending on the rotation of the spinning particles and the direction of the shear force.