New way to coax microscopic particles and droplets into precise patterns

Using sound to shape the future of printing.


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Acoustic fields are increasingly being used in material handling applications for gentle, noncontact manipulation of particles in fluids.

A recent study has harnessed the power of sound in the air. They have developed a way to coax microscopic particles and droplets into precise patterns.

The study conducted by the scientists from the Universities of Bath and Bristol has shown the possibility of creating precise, pre-determined patterns on surfaces from aerosol droplets or particles using computer-controlled ultrasound. They used a new technique called sonolithography, an air‐based acoustophoretic method for creating patterned surfaces from aerosolized droplets and solid particulates.

Professor Mike Fraser from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Bath explained: “The power of ultrasound has already been shown to levitate small particles. We are excited to have hugely expanded the range of applications by patterning dense clouds of material in the air at scale and being able to control how the material settles into shapes algorithmically.”

Dr. Jenna Shapiro, research associate in the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Bristol and lead author of the article, said: “Sonolithography enables gentle, noncontact and rapid patterning of cells and biomaterials on surfaces. Tissue engineering can use fabrication methods to build defined structures of cells and materials. We are adding a new technique to the fabrication toolbox.”

Professor Bruce Drinkwater, Professor of Ultrasonics in Bristol’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, added“The objects we are manipulating are the size of water drops in clouds. It’s fascinating to be able to move such small things with such fine control. This could allow us to direct aerosol sprays with unheard-of precision, with applications such as drug delivery or wound healing.”

According to scientists, the study could bring revolution to printing, improving the speed, cost, and precision of noncontact patterning techniques in the air.

Journal Reference:
  1. Jenna M. Shapiro, Bruce W. Drinkwater, Adam W. Perriman, Mike Fraser. Sonolithography: In‐Air Ultrasonic Particulate and Droplet Manipulation for Multiscale Surface Patterning. Advanced Materials Technologies, 2020; 2000689 DOI: 10.1002/admt.202000689


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