In molecular cell biology, scientists employ many types of substrates over which to culture cells to study them. In many cases these substrates are made of rigid materials like glass or Mica. To mimic the in vivo substrates which are wet and soft and tissue like, they also grow cells on compliant substrates.
Depend on the subject of the research, many scientists utilize soft substrates made of gels to mimic the wet and soft tissues in biological systems and to study the migration of cells and related physical characteristics such as velocity, force, adhesion and traction and in general cell migration. Study of each of these subjects and parameters require complex procedures. For instance, time-lapse microscopy techniques are commonly employed that require advanced image processing techniques to track cells. During this time span, cells should be kept in an incubator to imitate their actual environments. One of the challenging physical parameters is the measurement of the force applied by a cell on its substrate in real time. Ionic polymer metal composites (IPMCs) are smart multi-functional materials with simultaneous sensing and actuation capabilities provide a unique system to dynamically monitor cell growth, differentiation, migration, adhesion and traction. Currently micro pillars made with polyacrylamide or polyethylene glycol gels and more recently polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) microposts from microfabricated silicon masters only give information on cellular activities after the fact. IPMCs are capable or real time sensing of cell dynamics, adhesion and traction. This paper discusses some initial observations and the potential of such cell dynamic observations and tracking.