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Research Team Develops Single-Crystal Pump for Miniaturized DNA Forensics

A Boise State University research team has developed a new type of micro pump that can be used in forensic DNA profiling. Their results are being published in the journal Smart Materials and Structures this month.

“The pump represents a giant leap in miniaturization,” said biology professor Greg Hampikian, who leads the team along with materials science professor Peter Müllner.

In the race for rapid DNA profiling, a large impediment has been that pump technology has not been miniaturized the way that chemical and electronic components have. The team set a goal three years ago to develop a miniature pump that had no mechanical parts, no electrical contacts and would be compatible with existing DNA profiling kits. The micro pump can be used in a “lab on a chip” to help streamline DNA gathering and testing procedures.

“Magnetic Shape Memory (MSM) technology introduces a new paradigm in engineering by replacing gears, belts and whistles with just materials that change shape,” Müllner said. “With MSM technology we can make entire machines with just two or three pieces. The material is the machine.”

The pump features a MSM crystal as its primary component. The material used to create it was invented by Kari Ullakko, a former Boise State faculty member who now works at Lappeenranta University of Technology in Savonlinna, Finland. In addition to the three researchers, Boise State students Laura Wendel and Aaron Smith also are authors on the most recent research findings.

Two State of Idaho Higher Education Research Council (HERC) grants helped fund the research for the micro pump. Its successful development has led to several university patent applications and has attracted the attention of industry.

Müllner is an expert in MSM technology and Boise State is home to one of the most productive Materials Science and Engineering programs in the Pacific Northwest. The university will host the International MSM conference in Boise on June 3-7, 2013. Learn more at

Hampikian is the volunteer director for the Idaho Innocence Project and an internationally recognized expert in DNA forensics. He played a high-profile role in the exoneration last October of Amanda Knox, the American student tried and convicted of killing her roommate in 2007 while living and studying in Perugia, Italy. Hampikian regularly trains police officers, attorneys, coroners and crime lab technicians in forensic DNA analysis.

Sherry Squires | Newswise Science News
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