2/18/07 at 7:00 PM
To operate without too much cutting, surgeons have grown adept at using tiny tools much like tweezers and chopsticks. But these aren't adequate for many complicated procedures. Recently, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, invented a robotic hand one millimeter across that's capable of grabbing flesh. Its four ceramic fingers, arranged in a cross, are joined by plastic balloons; the hand opens when the balloons are deflated. "The hand is unique as it runs on gas pressure instead of electricity," says Chang-Jin Kim, a UCLA engineer who led the work. "It works well in air or liquid, making it easier to grasp small biological samples." Since the hand is soft, it won't cause rips and tears, and yet it's strong enough to pluck a single fish egg from a sticky glob of roe. Kim says he can make the microchip hand for about $2,000, but commercial versions won't be available yet for several years.