Aug 20, 2017 | By Benedict

Engineers from the UK’s University of Bristol have developed “TinyLev,” a 3D printed acoustic levitator that can be used to suspend matter in mid-air. The device could be used for blood tests, inspection of insects, and more.

The easy-to-build TinyLev acoustic levitator can be assembled by novice users

Fraudulent magicians, overzealous spiritualists, and Photoshop experts have given levitation a bad rap. But the process of holding an object aloft without mechanical support is actually an essential tool for many scientists. By providing an upward force that keeps an object in the air, researchers can more easily inspect and separate certain items, making levitation an incredibly useful technique in a scientist’s repertoire.

Now, a simple new levitation device developed at the University of Bristol could make levitation easier than ever.

Although there are several kinds levitation out there (magnetic, electrostatic, and aerodynamic, for example) the Bristol researchers have created a new kind of acoustic levitator, a device that suspends objects in the air using sound waves.

Weaker than magnetic levitation, acoustic levitation can nonetheless be used on a wide range of objects, including living animals and liquids like blood.

"Levitating samples in mid-air can improve diagnosis from blood samples and detection of the structure of molecules,” explains Dr. Asier Marzo from the University of Bristol's Department of Mechanical Engineering.

TinyLev can be used to levitate insects, electronics, chemicals, and other items 

According to Marzo, levitation can provide distinct advantages over other sampling methods. “Usually a sample on a microscope slide is illuminated with x-rays, lasers, or another type of radiation so the reflected radiation can be analyzed,” he says. “However, no matter how transparent the microscope slide is, it will always interfere with the test. On the contrary, if the sample is levitated, all the reflections are going to be from the sample.”

The Bristol team’s new acoustic levitator purportedly improves on existing technologies by simplifying and lowering the cost of the levitator, partly thanks to the use of 3D printing, enabling those outside of well-equipped labs to carry out levitation experiments.

“Acoustic levitation has been explored in hundreds of studies for applications in pharmaceuticals, biology, or biomaterials,” Marzo says. “It holds the promise of supporting innovative and ground-breaking processes. However, historically levitators have been restricted to a small number of research labs because they needed to be custom-made, carefully tuned, and required high voltage.”

This 3D printed levitator, however, can be made by virtually anyone, anywhere. The Bristol researchers have devised a build-your-own instruction pack that enables novice levitators to make their own system using parking sensors, a motor driver, an Arduino microcontroller, and a 3D printer.

TinyLev in action

The researchers say the levitator is safe to use, robust against temperature or humidity changes, usable for long periods of time.

Marzo thinks his team’s DIY acoustic levitation system could open the floodgates for a deluge of new studies: “Now, not only scientists but also students can build their own levitator at home or school to experiment and try new applications of acoustic levitation.”

The team’s research paper, “TinyLev: A multi-emitter single-axis acoustic levitator,” has been published in Review of Scientific Instruments.

Budding levitators can build their own device by following this Instructables guide. For the 3D printed part of the device, Marzo and his team “used a 0.4mm nozzle and brim but no support.” He adds that it “should be possible to print it in one piece.”

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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