Video: Government Wizards Levitate Drugs With Ultrasonic Sound

To create brand-new drugs, pharmaceutical researchers have turned to levitating them with blasts of ultrasonic sound.

Levitating Drugs

Dan Harris

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.