Moving objects precisely with sound

Moving objects precisely with sound

Technology News |
By Wisse Hettinga

Cette publication existe aussi en Français

Researchers have succeeded in directing floating objects around an aquatic obstacle course using only soundwaves

From the EPFL website

“Optical tweezers work by creating a light ‘hotspot’ to trap particles, like a ball falling into a hole. But if there are other objects in the vicinity, this hole is difficult to create and move around,” says Romain Fleury, head of the Laboratory of Wave Engineering in EPFL’s School of Engineering.

Fleury and postdoctoral researchers Bakhtiyar Orazbayev and Matthieu Malléjac of the Laboratory of Wave Engineering in EPFL’s School of Engineering have spent the last four years trying to move objects in uncontrolled, dynamic environments using soundwaves. In fact, the team’s method – wave momentum shaping – is entirely indifferent to an object’s environment or even its physical properties. All the information that’s required is the object’s position, and the soundwaves do the rest.

“In our experiments, instead of trapping objects, we gently pushed them around, as you might guide a puck with a hockey stick,” Fleury explains.

The unconventional method, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) Spark program, has been published in Nature Physics in collaboration with researchers from the University of Bordeaux in France, Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan, and the Vienna University of Technology in Austria.

“Some drug delivery methods already use soundwaves to release encapsulated drugs, so this technique is especially attractive for pushing a drug directly toward tumor cells, for example.”

The method could also be a game-changer for biological analysis or tissue engineering applications where manipulating cells by touching them would cause damage or contamination. Fleury also sees 3D printing applications for wave momentum shaping, for example to arrange microscopic particles before solidifying them into an object.

Ultimately, the researchers believe their method could also work using light, but their next goal is to take their sound-based experiments from the macro- to micro-scale. They have already received SNSF funding to do experiments under a microscope, using ultrasonic waves to move cells around.

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