Oct 28, 2016 | By Benedict

Researchers from the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have 3D printed a transducer that can control high-pressure ultrasound to move, manipulate, or destroy tiny objects like particles, drops, or biological tissue. The 3D printed device could be used in surgery or advanced research.

In a new report published in Applied Physics Letters, a group of researchers describes how it has 3D printed a noninvasive transducer that could be used in surgical and laboratory settings. The transducer can be used to control photoacoustic waves generated by lasers, and offers a level of precision uncommon in such devices. According to the researchers, this precision was enabled by the specific 3D printing techniques used to create the device.

While many transducers can produce only planar acoustic waves that focus the energy on a single point, laser-generated focused ultrasound transducers function actually convert laser pulses into vibrations. A glass surface is coated in a thin film of carbon nanotubes, acting like a lens. When lasers hit this surface, the coating expands rapidly, generating the vibrations requires to produce high-frequency acoustic waves.

“The advantage of acoustics is that it's noninvasive,” said Claus-Dieter Ohl at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. “We have much better control of the photoacoustic wave, and the wave can be even designed such that it serves the purpose of a mechanical actuator.”

Although traditional transducers of this kind are effective, their glass lenses are limited to planar, cylindrical or spherical shapes. The lens of the 3D printed transducer, on the other hand, is made from clear resin, meaning it can be made in a variety of shapes and thus produce a variety of acoustic wave shapes. Waves can therefore be focused at several points simultaneously, or at different times. By focusing waves at different points and times, the device can exert shear forces and sort, isolate, and manipulate droplets, particles, or biological cells.

For the transducer to work, the researchers needed to coat the clear resin of the device with layers of polymer and carbon nanotubes at room temperature—methods like vapor deposition require high temperatures that would have melted the cured resin. The resulting transducer, which measures around two square centimeters in size, performs as well as a traditional glass transducer, costing only around two dollars to make.

Three different 3D printers were used to create the transducers: a Formlabs Form 1+ stereolithography printer (below), a Stratasys Objet Eden260VS jet printer, and an Ultimaker 2 FDM printer. The researchers produced materials with high transparency at the laser wavelength of 532 nm on the stereolithography and ink-based printers, while the Ultimaker required a second molding step to obtain a transparent substrate.

According to the researchers, the combination of ultra-cheap production and a higher level of control over the ultrasound makes the 3D printed device an exciting proposition for the scientific community. With a focus precision in the hundreds of microns, the device could be used in material analysis and surgery, helping doctors better attack tumors. The researchers believe that the device could be particularly useful in cataract surgery.

The research paper, titled “Laser-generated focused ultrasound for arbitrary waveforms,” is available in Applied Physics Letters.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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