In order to do things such as building microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) or grabbing individual stem cell spheres for analysis, scientists use extremely fine-tipped tools known as microtweezers. While such devices aren't a brand new innovation in and of themselves, researchers from Indiana's Purdue University have developed a new type of microtweezers that are said to be easier and cheaper to manufacture than their conventional counterparts. Not only that, but unlike most similar devices currently in use, they don't require heat, magnetism or electricity to operate.

The simple new microtweezers are composed of a thimble knob from a standard micrometer, a two-pronged one-piece silicon tweezer, and what is known as a "graphite interface" - this translates the user's thimble knob-turning into a pushing or pulling action, causing the tweezer's two prongs to move towards or away from one another.

The scientists compare the springy one-piece tweezer itself to a bobby pin or paper clip. By contrast, most other systems incorporate multiple parts, with complex hinges and other arrangements that drive production costs up, and make them more difficult to use. The new microtweezers are also unusually compact and portable - this means that they could be attached to a viewing platform and used to grab a micro-scale object, then detached from that platform and moved elsewhere, while still holding the object.

It is hoped that they could be used for applications such as creating new types of MEMS structures, handling microscopic items for scientific analysis, or helping with the printing of chemical or protein dots, for use in environmental sensors.

A paper on the Purdue research was recently published in the Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems.