A short tutorial contribution to impedance and AC-electrokinetic characterization and manipulation of cells and media: Are electric methods more versatile than acoustic and laser methods?

Jan Gimsa, Marco Stubbe, Ulrike Gimsa


Lab-on-chip systems (LOCs) can be used as in vitro systems for cell culture or manipulation in order to analyze or monitor physiological cell parameters. LOCs may combine microfluidic structures with integrated elements such as piezo-transducers, optical tweezers or electrodes for AC-electrokinetic cell and media manipulations. The wide frequency band (<1 kHz to >1 GHz) usable for AC-electrokinetic manipulation and characterization permits avoiding electrochemical electrode processes, undesired cell damage, and provides a choice between different polarization effects that permit a high electric contrast between the cells and the external medium as well as the differentiation between cellular subpopulations according to a variety of parameters. It has been shown that structural polarization effects do not only determine the impedance of cell suspensions and the force effects in AC-electrokinetics but can also be used for the manipulation of media with inhomogeneous temperature distributions. This manuscript considers the interrelations of the impedance of suspensions of cells and AC-electrokinetic single cell effects, such as electroorientation, electrodeformation, dielectrophoresis, electrorotation, and travelling wave (TW) dielectrophoresis. Unified models have allowed us to derive new characteristic equations for the impedance of a suspension of spherical cells, TW dielectrophoresis, and TW pumping. A critical review of the working principles of electro-osmotic, TW and electrothermal micropumps shows the superiority of the electrothermal pumps. Finally, examples are shown for LOC elements that can be produced as metallic structures on glass chips, which may form the bottom plate for self-sealing microfluidic systems. The structures can be used for cell characterization and manipulation but also to realize micropumps or sensors for pH, metabolites, cell-adhesion, etc.


AC-electrokinetics, impedance, Lab-on-chip, modelling

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5617/jeb.557