Video: Government Wizards Levitate Drugs With Ultrasonic Sound

Good drugs dissolve easily in the body. Bad pharmaceutical molecules, meanwhile, lock themselves into hard-to-absorb crystals that require strong doses to work, and this overcompensation often leads to crummy side effects.

Unfortunately, the very lab equipment that pharmaceutical researchers use to create new crystal-free drugs can cause the molecules to crystallize.

To get around this conundrum, science wizards at Argonne National Laboratory, a government-run facility southwest of Chicago, counteract gravity with two opposing speakers. Each speaker pumps out sound at 22,000 hertz–just beyond the upper range of human hearing–and form a standing sound wave that can trap blobs of dissolved experimental compounds.

The technique isn’t a way to mass-manufacture new drugs, at least yet. But the stuff floating in the video above can be moved in the X-ray beamline of Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source for detailed chemical analysis–and that might lift promising new drugs into the clinical trial pipeline faster.