Moving objects without touching them

A method that can move larger objects using the principles of metamaterial physics.


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A new method has been discovered that allows contactless manipulation in industries. Developed by scientists at the University of Minnesota, the method uses ultrasound waves to move objects hands-free.

Previously, it was discovered that light and sound waves could manipulate objects. However, those objects have always been smaller than the wavelength of sound or light or on the order of millimeters to nanometers. This new method can move larger objects using the principles of metamaterial physics.

The scientists created a metamaterial pattern that they applied to an object’s surface, allowing them to steer it with sound without touching it.

Ognjen Ilic, senior study author and a professor in the College of Science and Engineering, said, “We have known for a while that waves and light and sound can manipulate objects. What sets our research apart is that we can manipulate and trap much bigger objects if we make their surface a metamaterial surface or a ‘metasurface.'”

This method allowed scientists not only to move an object forward but also pull it toward a source.

Matthew Stein, the first author on the paper and a graduate student in the College of Science and Engineering, said, “Contactless manipulation is a hot area of research in optics and electromagnetism, but this research proposes another method for contactless actuation that offers advantages that other methods may not have.”

Ilic said“I think we’re charting in a new direction here and showing that without physical contact, we can move objects, and that motion can be controlled simply by programming what is on the surface of that object. This gives us a new mechanism to contactless operate things.”

This study is more of a demonstration of the concept. Scientists are now looking forward to test out higher frequencies of waves and different materials and object sizes in the future.

Journal Reference:

  1. Stein, M., Keller, S., Luo, Y. et al. Shaping contactless radiation forces through anomalous acoustic scattering. Nat Commun 13, 6533 (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-34207-7


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