Micromanipulators and Micromanipulation
A micromanipulator is an instrument used to interact with and manipulate a sample, usually under a microscope. Micromanipulators are used where the movements need to be so precise they are on the submicron scale, impossible to do by hand. They are used for different applications across the scientific disciplines and engineering including the life sciences, optics and circuit engineering.
There are many different types of micromanipulators on the market including motorized and manual systems. MCI are able to provide both and have a great deal of experience in manipulator design and manufacturing.
MCI Patch Clamp Micromanipulators
Our CleverArm Motorised Micromanipulator integrates elements of well-proven technology to provide an exceptionally stable, reliable and user-friendly manipulator, packed full of useful features for the electrophysiologist.
The EasyArm is the ideal solution for applications which do not require remote control, allowing for fine manual control and easy mounting options.
Control Interface and Movement
This part is made up of hardware as well as computer software that the operator uses to get the required level of movement and control. In addition to the actual movement involved in the unit itself there can be external software and remote control interface equipment. The software can allow the user to programme in movements remotely using electrically controlled remote interfaces. As well as electronic movement, there are also hydraulic options available for even more control, as well as wireless interface systems.
The movement itself is controlled by actuators. These devices allow digital or mechanical force to be converted into a rotary motion. There are 4 main types of Actuators found in micromanipulators
- Piezo Actuators
- Hydraulic Drums
- Stepper Motors
- Micrometers/Fine-Thread precision screws (for manual micromanipulators)
Every actuator is part of or, in fact, attached to a micromanipulator stage. The stage is basically working in a similar way to the actuator in that it has fixed and moving parts. The fixed part remains in the same position while the moving part can move forwards and backwards. The fixed part of the actuator and the stage are both attached, so the stage moves through it’s associated actuator. For the most part, the stage is made from alumium, but in some cases the metal is not suitable and has to be treated using surface modification treatments. There are a number of other factors involved in the materials and electronics used in micromanipulators for certain conditions and this is looked at in more detail here along with many other aspects.
Basic Movement Criteria of Micromanipulators
Depending on the application, users may require different scales of movement resolution, movement speed, range and accuracy. These are the critical variables integrated into manipulator design by manufacturers, which are typically presented to suit particular applications. For a more complete discussion of the basic micromanipulator design characteristics, read our Fundamentals article.
MCI’s CleverArm Micromanipulator was developed specifically for patch clamp electrophysiology, as well as for other applications where stability and versatility in terms of mounting options and the control interface are essential.
The EasyArm Manual Manipulator has four manual, fine control axes, for applications where sub-micron resolution is still important, but remote control is not critical.
If you would like to discuss the applications, costs or any other points about our micromanipulators please get in touch with our team today. We supply labs across the world with a huge range of neuroscience equipment and we pride ourselves on not only great products but great service too. If you are working on a grant application our team would be happy to help with a quote.
We also supply anti-vibration tables for use with micromanipulators.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a micromanipulator?
A micromanipulator is a device typically used to physically interact with a sample, often under microscopic observation. This interaction is usually via a probe (the identity of the probe varies depending on the application) which is attached to the micromanipulator. The probe is moved at microscopic (micron or sub-micron) scales along the dimensions offered by the micromanipulator design scope.
What are micromanipulators typically used for?
The applications range widely, but the most common applications are divided into engineering applications and physical and life sciences.
The engineering applications would be commonly used in printed circuit board (often micro-circuits) design and testing, both for industry and in academia.
For physical sciences, moving particles at micro scales or testing the physical properties of materials when moved in space would be common applications.
In life sciences, micromanipulators are commonly used for the positioning of probes on cell membranes (e.g. patch clamp electrophysiology), positioning drug application manifolds or physically moving biological entities.
What are the basic parts of a Micromanipulator and how do they work?
For an in-depth discussion of the basic micromanipulator design characteristics, read our Fundamentals article
What is the difference between a manipulator and a micromanipulator device?
The micro-part, in essence. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but there are some manipulator devices which manipulate position at scales (tens or hundreds of micron resolution) which don’t qualify for it to be called a micromanipulator.
What are the main micromanipulator categories?
Micromanipulators are typically categorized according to a typical application, so according to the applications mentioned above (see “What are micromanipulators typically used for”), and further sub-categorization into more specific applications within their respective categories. In the material sciences field, for example, a manipulator may be specifically categorized as intended for use with a scanning electron microscope, in a vacuum or as part of a probe station. In life sciences, two example applications might be patch clamp electrophysiology or in vitro fertilization (IVF)
How much do micromanipulators typically cost?
Of course, this depends on the manipulator type and the level of sophistication and incorporated technology. As far as the micromanipulator categories MCI Neuroscience knows best are concerned, manual manipulators cost between $300 on the low end and $6,000 on the high end. Motorised (or remote control) manipulators, used for patch clamping in life sciences, typically cost between $4,000 and $10,000.
How does a piezoelectric micromanipulator work?
The actuator part of the micromanipulator contains a piezoelectric element, which employs the piezo-effect to expand and contract. This actuator is incorporated into a stage, typically with high-precision bearings, to give stability and direction to the movement. See our Fundamentals series for more information and background on this and other mechanisms.
How does a stepper-motor-driven micromanipulator work?
The actuator part of the micromanipulator contains a stepper motor. This robust technology uses electrical commands which rotate the motor by programmable steps for precise positioning and speed control. This actuator is incorporated into a stage, typically with high-precision bearings, to give stability and direction to the movement. See our Fundamentals series for more information and background on this and other mechanisms. An excellent example of a high-quality stepper-motor driven micromanipulator is the MCI CleverArm
How does a hydraulic micromanipulator work?
The actuator part of the micromanipulator is a hydraulic drum, which uses hydraulic force translation to translate the force applied by the operator (often via a rotating drum) into movement at microscopic scales. This actuating mechanism is incorporated into a stage, typically with high-precision bearings, to give stability and direction to the movement. See our Fundamentals series for more information and background on this and other mechanisms.
How does a manual micromanipulator work?
Micrometers or fine-thread, precision screws are incorporated into a stage, typically with high-precision bearings, to give stability and direction to the movement. Movement is achieved by the operator turning a precision screw fixed to the micromanipulator body in a specific orientation to effect movement. See our Fundamentals series for more information and background on this and other mechanisms. An excellent example of a high-quality manual manipulator is the MCI EasyArm
How can MCI Neuroscience offer such a long warranty period on your motorized micromanipulators?
The expected lifetime of the critical components built into our micromanipulators, calculated at the expected use rate for life science applications allow us to be bold about our warranty offer. The 3-year term is industry leading.
How can control the CleverArm micromanipulator using my own software?
The CleverArm is provided with a standard software package and the CleverControl Cuboid user interface, but we also provide a software developers kit (SDK) upon request.
How programmable are the MCI CleverArm micromanipulators?
Any step, speed and coordinate can be programmed in any of the three dimensions, or a combination thereof.
Why is the MCI CleverArm the best choice for patch clamp electrophysiology?
The CleverArm has many aspects in its design brief to make it very versatile and customizable. Besides these aspects, it is extremely stable and noise free. See the product pages for more information
Why are motorized micromanipulators more user-friendly than hydraulic micromanipulators?
Motorized micromanipulators are programmable, which means certain functions can be implemented which can’t be done with hydraulic micromanipulators, like steps and memory positions. Hydraulic manipulators don’t work with electricity, which means chances are reduced of picking up electrical noise during patch experiments.
Which of the two MCI micromanipulators would be recommended for patch clamp electrophysiology?
Which of the two MCI micromanipulators would be recommended for holding a stimulating electrode during electrophysiology experiments?
Which of the two MCI micromanipulators would be recommended for performing microinjections?
Can I build my own micromanipulator probe station?
There are several commercial solutions available as turnkey probe stations. If you are familiar with setting up equipment and with integrating hardware devices, you should be able to assemble your own probe station easily from parts already in the lab/workshop, and buying in the remaining components
Can I trust a micromanipulator bought on eBay?
In our opinion, it really depends on the application. For less demanding applications, you should be okay, especially when you only need a manual manipulator. Otherwise, it’s better to work with a recognized local supplier who can guarantee quality and who would be able to support you.
Can the MCI micromanipulators be used as components in a probe station?
With the CleverArm, yes, but there are cheaper solutions in the market which offer less functionality. With the EasyArm, yes, as long as you don’t require programmability.
Can the MCI micromanipulators be used for microinjection?
The CleverArm motorized micromanipulator would be our recommended solution for microinjection
Can the MCI micromanipulators be used for In Vitro Fertilization(IVF)?
The CleverArm motorized micromanipulator would be our recommended solution for IVF, although many users prefer to use a joystick as the main control interface. The CleverArm offers a wheel-based interface, or software control.
Can MCI Micromanipulators be combined with microinjectors?
Yes – the flexible probe holder, shipped out with every CleverArm manipulator, can easily clamp devices mounted on a rod, like microinjection devices. MCI is also a distribution partner company for Parker Hannifin for supplying the Picospritzer III
Can I test the MCI Micromanipulators before I buy it?
A: Yes – contact our support team to discuss demonstrations and trials
Can I build my own DIY micromanipulator?
Yes, for less demanding applications (manual manipulators), especially with preassembled stages from optics suppliers.
Where can I buy Tungsten probe tips for electrical stimulation?
Where can I buy glass capillaries for my micropipettes?
MCI Neuroscience supply these. Contact our support team to discuss
Where can I buy a micropipette puller
MCI Neuroscience supply these. Contact our support team to discuss
Do the MCI CleverArm micromanipulators include all the brackets to conduct my patch clamp electrophysiology experiments with?
Yes, at least as far as the manipulation part is concerned. Included in the basic package is:
- The manipulator body with control electronics
- A long reach bracket for extending the reach of the headstage, for enabling a steep or a shallow angle of entry
- A sliding bracket for fast pipette exchange
- A rotating base for fast pipette exchange
- A female dovetail clamp to mount male dovetail headstages
- A rod-holding probe clamp to mount headstages fixed to rods
- The CleverControl cuboid controller
- The CleverControl software
- A 3-year warranty
Does the CleverArm micromanipulator include a software developers kit (SDK)?
This can be included upon special request. It is in hexadecimal code format
Does the wifi/wireless control on the CleverArm micromanipulator cause electrical noise?
No – please see our reference section on the main product page.