"Acoustic Tweezers" Can Manipulate Tiny Organisms Using Sound Waves

Acoustic Tweezers

Xiaoyun Ding, Stephen J. Benkovic, and Tony Jun Huang

Tired of grabbing cells and roundworms with clumsy tools? This set of acoustic tweezers -- a device the size of a dime -- uses ultrasound to move objects and living material without physical contact.

The device creates standing surface acoustic waves, or SAWs. The material that scientists want to manipulate is placed in a liquid medium and the SAWs create a pressure field in it. The SAWs are then tuned to either hold or move the material. Penn State University researchers, for the first time, used the technology to manipulate Caenorhabditis elegans, a 1-mm-long roundworm used for studying diseases and development in humans.

The biggest applications for this will probably be in the biology and health industries, where the technology could be used to better simulate processes in the human body. The effects of pressure placed on cells, for example, or pulses of chemicals, could be set up and mimicked using acoustic tweezers, whether it's done with a single cell or thousands.