Dielectrophoresis (DEP) is the translation of tiny particles, nanometer to micrometer scale, resulting from non-uniform electric fields. Particle motion is dictated by the complex permittivity of the particle, the complex permittivity of the carrier solution (e.g. aqueous buffer), and the local electric field gradient. DEP is an attractive microfluidic manipulation technique because electric fields can be used to exert forces on uncharged particles or biological organisms. DEP has been used in applications ranging from particle separation to bacteria characterization.
Here we propose the use of DEP to manipulate specific bacteria that are used in microbial fuel cells (MFCs). MFCs use these bacteria to catalyze the oxidation of simple sugars and other organic compounds. A significant body of information exists concerning the behavior of large populations of the bacteria but few studies have shed light on how or why specific bacteria can be used for bio catalysis. We are designing custom microfluidic devices that use DEP to trap and manipulate these bacteria for further experimental characterization. Ultimately this work will lead to enriched understanding of bacteria function and enhanced microbial fuel cell performance.