ABSTRACT breaks down mind-blowing scientific research, future technology, new discoveries and major breakthroughs.
Scientists have invented a device that uses intense sound waves to levitate and move tiny objects without direct contact, a technique captured in surreal images of tiny sticks, beads and droplets eerily suspended in the air, as if enchanted.
The device, called LeviPrint, pioneers a new technique for contactless production and introduces unprecedented manipulation of elongated objects, according to research published on Wednesday which will be presented at the SIGGRAPH conference in Vancouver, British Columbia in August.
LeviPrint’s ability to move such small objects and even liquid droplets can enable microfabrication of small machines, such as watches or camera parts, without the risk of cross-contamination from direct contents. It could also be useful for bioengineering because the device could “assemble microscopic objects in cell culture media and perhaps even in living things,” the new study said.
“Contactless manufacturing reduces cross-contamination, manipulating a wide variety of parts (beads, liquids, sticks, powders…) and moving those parts through holes and cavities,” said Asier Marzo, a researcher at Public University from Navarre – author of the study, in an email. “For example, we built a small boat in a metal mesh bottle by inserting all the components through a small opening on the side.”
While many teams have experimented with acoustic levitation, a technique that uses the pressure of sound waves to suspend matter, Marzo and his colleagues are the first to combine the manipulation of tiny particles and droplets into a full prototype for non-contact fabrication. LeviPrint is also the first device to use acoustic traps to suspend elongated objects, which can be useful for manufacturing processes that require beams, stakes or girders. While these tests were conducted with air as the medium, there are even more exotic possibilities in water.
“Most of the coolest uses are when working in water-based media rather than air,” said Marzo. “The same techniques that worked in the air could be directly translated to water-based media. It’s even easier because objects weigh less and the ultrasound passes through water better.”
“The LeviPrint technique could control the orientation of elongated objects in the body, such as needles or small probes,” he added, although he noted that the team still needs to develop device emitters adapted to perform in water.
While there’s solid science behind LeviPrint, the bizarre images of its abilities make it look like the team is casting a spell. It’s an impression that Marzo and his colleagues do not lose, even though they have invested years in the nuts and bolts of the device.
“The first time you levitate something is a magical experience, especially if your childhood is full of wizards or science fiction movies,” says Marzo. “You begin to slowly move the element and observe it from all angles, as if you were focusing all your attention on a magic trick. But you get used to it quickly and you want to let more and more complex things float and make faster and more complex movements, looking for the limits of the system.”
“The limitations we found on previous devices are a big motivation to create something that could go further,” he added. “We admit we’ve gotten pretty used to manipulating floating monsters over the last few years, doing it manually can be a little tricky because your hand is shaking and those vibrations can resonate with the trapped particle. It’s like that game of running with an egg on a spoon, so when we switched to the robotic arm it was a great relief given the accuracy, speed and lack of any vibration.”
In addition to presenting their research later this summer, Marzo and his colleagues hope other scientists will adopt and adapt LeviPrint for a range of functions.
“The device we used was a prototype put together by a few researchers who are not experts in electronics, but it was enough to demonstrate the techniques and hints at possible applications,” Marzo concluded. “Now a major engineering company can make more powerful and accurate levitators that offer greater precision and the ability to work with materials such as aluminum or even steel. We hope to see a research group with experience in biomedical applications that will use this technique to work in on water-based media and biomaterials.”