Can you imagine not being hurt when a sharp needle sticks into your skin? Said yes according to Vice President Jinn Chu of National Taiwan University of Science and Technology (NTUST), who is also a Distinguished Professor of the Department of Material Sciences and Engineering. The “thin film metallic glass-coated syringe needle” technology made possible by her team can ease the pain during injection by reducing the friction of needles. Meanwhile, this kind of needle can also be reused on the same patient as it can reduce the adhesion of bacteria after injection. The product is scheduled to be commercialized in the US in 2021.
The Applied Research Center for Thin-Film Metallic Glass led by Professor Chu has solid R&D capability and profound academia-industry collaboration experiences. The research team has implemented the metallic glass-coated needles’ anti-adhesion technology into the medical and semiconductor industry. The Ministry of Science and Technology Center for Global Affairs and Science Engagement (MOST GASE) had an exclusive interview with Professor Chu to understand more about this novel technology.
Thin Film to Ease the Pain of an Injection
“Speaking of anti-adhesion materials, Teflon is what comes to most people’s minds. However, the coating of Telfon could wear off easily and could harm the human body. On the other hand, metallic glass does not have such concern, so it is suitable to be used as medical equipment.”
Being one of the few research teams in the world developing coating techniques, Professor Chu has been researching metallic glass for over 20 years. In 2016, the research team found that metallic glass has an “anti-adhesion” characteristic and low friction. The result was published in Scientific Reports. Since then, this new technology has gradually been applied in cosmetic surgery, dentistry, and surgical tools, such as injection needles and scalpels.
Professor Chu explained the reason that people feel hurt when having an injection is mainly due to the friction force caused by needle insertion. Therefore, most of the needles will be coated with “silicone oil” to reduce friction. Instead of coating silicone oil on the needle, the research team coated them with metallic glass to serve as a “solid lubricant”. Moreover, the hardness of metallic glass is twice of stainless steel, which makes it more durable than traditional needles and reduces pain during the injection at the same time.
Recently, the research team expanded the use of metallic glass to tattoo needles to make the tattoo wound smaller for faster recovery, reduced inflammation, and better colorization.
Improve the Quality of Semiconductor Products
Metallic glass can be used in medical equipment as well as semiconductor manufacturing. Professor Chu’s team coated metallic glass on diamond blades for wafer cutting to prevent conchoidal fracture on semiconductor wafers. This technology can be used in the precision industries and optoelectronics industries and patented by Prof. Chu’s team.
In 2017, the Applied Research Center for Thin-Film Metallic Glass developed “Metallic Nanotube Array,” which consists of 25 million metal tubes on a 0.5 square centimeters wafer. This nanotube array can better biosensors and improve rapid testing of diseases and can also potentially be applied in solar energy generation.
Professor Chu said that nanotubes are mostly carbon-based or ceramic-based, which makes it hard to arrange the array orderly. The metallic nanotube array, on the other hand, aligns the nanotube in perfect order. This research outcome has been published in top international scientific journals and was rewarded with The American Chemical Society Award in 2018. Meanwhile, this technology has already advanced to the stage where metallic materials, such as stainless steel and aluminum alloy can also be used in producing nanotube arrays.
Strong R&D Power and Obsession on the Mystery of Glass
The metallic glass needle has already passed the Class 1 Medical Device Regulation in Taiwan and has obtained patents in Taiwan, the US, Korea, and China. The research team has also transferred this technique to a dental device company in the US, where the needles will be commercialized and used for dental surgery. Furthermore, the research team is also collaborating with an Israeli medical device start-up company.
Professor Chu’s research outcome has a wide variety of applications and he told us that “metallic glass is metal but with the characteristic of glass and combines the strength and hardness of both.” Among all sorts of different materials, there are still many unsolved questions about glass, which is why Science has ranked the characteristic of glass one of the most challenging scientific problem in 2016.
Professor Chu said that scientific research needs long-term commitment and cross-disciplinary collaboration to develop diverse applications. “Metallic glass” is not only a hot research topic, but an interesting research area across physics, material sciences, and biomedicine. The research team will continue to devote themselves to the research of metallic glass and enhance academia-industry collaboration to maximize the application value of the material.