Sound waves levitate multiple objects

28/09/2021 20mins
Phani Kumar S


While we still cannot shrink surgeons and send them inside the body of a human as it used to happen in the science fiction movies of the 60s, scientists have found a new way to manipulate objects within a tissue.

It turns out that a specialized array of mini speakers could be programmed to create a sound field that manipulates specific objects in the acoustic tweezers. This ultimately allows them to make manipulations inside the tissue.

Recently, notable advancements have been made in the field of acoustic tweezers, coming from Professor Bruce Drinkwater from the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Bristol along with Dr. Asier Marzo, his colleague from the Universidad Publica De Navarra in Spain.

Together, their advancement seems to drive technology towards a reality that sounds very futuristic. Recently, all the developments made by their team got published in the PNAS (Proceeds of the National Academy of Sciences. These recent developments revolved around acoustically levitating and manipulating many objects at the same time.

Professor Bruce Drinkwater hopes that a variant of such a system could be used to stick up the internal injuries acoustically. Furthermore, it could also be used to deliver drugs to some target organs quickly. According to him, there is a greater amount of versatility available to us now for performing procedures that were highly complex before in time.

Essentially, sound waves result in a small amount of acoustic force. When the volume of ultrasonic waves (that happen to be too high pitched for human ears to hear) is turned up, a strong acoustic force could be created. This force is strong enough to move or levitate small objects.

The work of Dr. Marzo and Professor Drinkwater revolve around generating complex sound fields that are efficient enough to trap more than one objects at their target locations at a time.

Dr. Marzo explained his work as the application of an algorithm controlling a series of 256 loudspeakers, small in size. This allows the team to create tweezer-like intricate acoustic fields.

The capabilities of acoustic tweezers are somewhat similar to that of optical tweezers (the winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize). However, acoustic tweezers seem to be at an edge over the optical system, having better applications of operating inside human tissue. While laser beams tend to travel through transparent media, it is very tricky to use them inside biological tissue. However, ultrasound beams are used commonly in kidney stone treatment and in pregnancy scans. Hence they are known to penetrate safely and in a non-invasive way.

An added advantage of acoustic devices is that they happen to be more power efficient as compared to the optical systems. In general, these devices are 100000 times greater in power. According to Professor Drinkwater, Optical tweezers are an amazing technology. However, the likelihood of the cells dying while being moved is great. On the other hand, acoustic tweezers use pretty much the same sort of mechanics but exert a lot lesser energy. Hence, these are more suitable for applications in which cellular manipulation is involved.


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