Electronic Sonotweezers: Particle Manipulation with Ultrasonic Arrays

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol


We have carefully planned this research programme to pioneer a wholly new capability in ultrasonic particle manipulation to allow electronic sonotweezers to take their place alongside optical tweezers, dielectrophoresis and other techniques in the present and future particle manipulation toolkit.Following end-user demand, particle manipulation is a rapidly growing field, notably applied to the life sciences, with emerging applications in analysis and sorting, measurement of cell forces and tissue engineering. Existing devices have valuable capabilities but also limits in terms of forces that can be produced and measured, particle sizes that can be handled, their range of compatible buffer characteristics and sensitivity to heating, and suitability for integration with sensors in low cost devices. Key to our programme is the concept of dynamic potential energy landscapes and the established ability of ultrasound to create such landscapes, potentially to generate forces under electronic / computer control. Our principal technical aim is to exploit this in integrated sonotweezers to apply and measure larger forces over longer length scales, extend micromanipulation to larger particles, and demonstrate this in pathfinder applications in life sciences.To achieve our aims, we have already carried out successful feasibility studies and brought together an outstanding multidisciplinary team of investigators including internationally established members, some of the UK's most exciting young scientists and engineers, and appropriate overseas collaborators. Such a team is a prerequisite for what we recognise as a challenging, highly complex, densely interlinked programme. Over its four years, with strong management and built-in research flexibility, we will explore key areas of science, technology and applications to create and demonstrate electronic sonotweezers. Throughout the work, there will be parallel activity in understanding of physical principles, modelling and design, state-of-the-art fabrication, sensor integration, and applications testing.


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Bernassau A (2013) Interactive manipulation of microparticles in an octagonal sonotweezer in Applied Physics Letters

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Bernassau AL (2011) Two-dimensional manipulation of micro particles by acoustic radiation pressure in a heptagon cell. in IEEE transactions on ultrasonics, ferroelectrics, and frequency control

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Caleap M (2014) Acoustically trapped colloidal crystals that are reconfigurable in real time. in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

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Courtney C (2011) Manipulation of particles in two dimensions using phase controllable ultrasonic standing waves in Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences

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Drinkwater B (2011) The real sonic screwdrivers in Physics World

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Grinenko A (2012) Proof of principle study of ultrasonic particle manipulation by a circular array device. in Proceedings. Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences

Description We have developed a wide range of ultrasonic particle manipulation technologies (also known as acoustic tweezers).
We have developed a deep understanding of these devices and so can follow their behaviour both in terms of the forces on individual particles and how the devices operate on an ensemble of particles.
Applications in tissue engineering and materials processing have been explored and encouraging results obtained.
A variety of other applications will be explored in the future.
Exploitation Route The biomedical section could use our findings to develop improved diagnostics or assemble cells into tissue.
The materials science community could use our findings to build better materials. The techniques we developed are scalable hence facilitate the construction in hierarchical materials.
Sectors Electronics,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description This project resulted in a wide variety of outreach activities in which we engaged with the general public. The work has also lead to direct industry funding from a number of industrial companies, including Dyson, Honda and De Beers.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Security and Diplomacy,Transport
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description Exploration of Ultrasound based haptic interaction on a multi-touch surface
Amount £335,832 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/J004448/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2012 
End 01/2015
Title Work covered in Nature Methods Technology Feature 
Description Work covered in Nature Methods Technology Feature 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Work covered in Nature Methods Technology Feature 
URL http://www.nature.com/nmeth/journal/v12/n1/full/nmeth.3218.html
Title Apparatus and method for the manipulation of objects using ultrasound 
Description Paten to cover the design of array-based dexterous microparticle manipulation devices 
IP Reference US20130047728 
Protection Patent granted
Year Protection Granted 2013
Licensed No
Impact The technique is no being used by a number of researchers in the fields of biology and medicine
Description Research covered by Radio 4 Inside Science 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Research covered by Radio 4's Inside Science
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04wwn6q
Description Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://sse.royalsociety.org/2014/ultrasonic-waves/