Toward compression of small cell population: Harnessing stress in passive regions of dielectric elastomer actuators
We present a dielectric elastomer actuator (DEA) for in vitro analysis of mm2 biological samples under periodic compressive stress. Understanding how mechanical stimuli affect cell functions could lead to significant advances in diseases diagnosis and drugs development. We previously reported an array of 72 micro-DEAs on a chip to apply a periodic stretch to cells. To diversify our cell mechanotransduction toolkit we have developed an actuator for periodic compression of small cell populations. The device is based on a novel design which exploits the effects of non-equibiaxial pre-stretch and takes advantage of the stress induced in passive regions of DEAs. The device consists of two active regions separated by a 2mm x 2mm passive area. When connected to an AC high-voltage source, the two active regions periodically compress the passive region. Due to the non-equibiaxial pre-stretch it induces uniaxial compressive strain greater than 10%. Cells adsorbed on top of this passive gap would experience the same uniaxial compressive stain. The electrodes configuration confines the electric field and prevents it from reaching the biological sample. A thin layer of silicone is casted on top of the device to ensure a biocompatible environment. This design provides several advantages over alternative technologies such as high optical transparency of the area of interest (passive region under compression) and its potential for miniaturization and parallelization.