National Science Foundation grant supports study of new cell sorting method

University of Nevada, Reno research to benefit biofuel production and other biological processes

4/30/2013 - By: Mike Wolterbeek
Geiger cell-sorting study Emil Geiger, in the University of Nevada, Reno’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, received his first major National Science Foundation grant to develop and study a new cell-sorting technique. Photo by Sally Casas, University of Nevada, Reno.

Research at the University of Nevada, Reno to develop an easier, less expensive way to sort microalgae cells for biofuel production will be advanced with the support of a recently awarded National Science Foundation grant.

A method is being developed by mechanical engineering assistant professor Emil Geiger that uses high-frequency electric fields to sort cells based on oil content so researchers could easily determine the amount of oil in an existing or new strain of algae, which would guide their decisions in developing algae for biofuels. A comprehensive study will also be done to discover what other cells could be separated with Geiger's high-frequency sorting method, using a laptop size piece of equipment rather than the desk-sized equipment currently used.

"High-frequency sorting methods may have other applications beyond microalgae, such as drug discovery and cancer research," Geiger said. "We'll collaborate with the medical school to explore other biological processes. The interdisciplinary nature of the project will also provide excellent training opportunities for students, giving them exposure to both microtechnology and microbiology."

Geiger's work will support continued development of an interdisciplinary class, "Introduction to Microtechnology," at the University.

The three-year, $276,722 grant is titled "Cell Sorting and Separation via High Frequency Dielectrophoresis." 

Geiger came to the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011 following a two-year appointment as a post-doctoral researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the Center for Meso, Micro, and Nano Technology. He received his bachelor's degree with honors in mechanical engineering from Louisiana State University, his master's degree in mechanical engineering and his doctoral degree from the University of California, Berkeley.