Agarose microfabrication technology is one of the micropatterning techniques of cells having advantages of simple and flexible real-time fabrication of three-dimensional confinement microstructures even during cell cultivation. However, the conventional photothermal etching procedure of focused infrared laser on thin agarose layer has several limitations, such as the undesired sudden change of etched width caused by the local change of absorbance of the bottom surface of cultivation plate, especially on the indium-tin-oxide (ITO) wiring on the multi-electrode array (MEA) cultivation chip. To overcome these limitations, we have developed a new agarose etching method exploiting the Joule heating of focused micro ionic current at the tip of the micrometer-sized capillary tube. When 75 V, 1 kHz AC voltage was applied to the tapered microcapillary tube, in which 1 M sodium ion buffer was filled, the formed micro ionic current at the open end of the microcapillary tube melted the thin agarose layer and formed stable 5 µm width microstructures regardless the ITO wiring, and the width was controlled by the change of applied voltage squared. We also found the importance of the higher frequency of applied AC voltage to form the stable microstructures and also minimize the fluctuation of melted width. The results indicate that the focused micro ionic current can create stable local spot heating in the medium buffer as the Joule heating of local ionic current and can perform the same quality of microfabrication as the focused infrared laser absorption procedure with a simple set-up of the system and several advantages.
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