Hands-on at this exhibit

  • Take part in an ultrasonic levitation experiment
  • Touch and feel ultrasonic waves
  • Find hidden cracks using ultrasonic waves
  • See squirming plankton respond to ultrasonic waves

Further reading

Courtney, C.R.P. et al. 2012 Manipulation of particles in two dimensions using phase controllable ultrasonic standing waves. Proceedings of the Royal Society A 468, 337-360

Glynne-Jones, P. et al. 2012 Array-controlled ultrasonic manipulation of particles in planar acoustic resonator. IEEE Transactions of Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics and Frequency Control 59, 1258–66

Zhang, J. et al. 2012 Monte carlo inversion of ultrasonic array data to map anisotropic weld properties. IEEE Transactions of Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics and Frequency Control 59, 2487–97

Sound is all around us. As humans we experience sound all the time and think we know it well. But audible sound is only a fraction of the sound that is out there. Both above and below the frequencies we can hear with our ears is a hidden world of other sounds. Bats, insects, dolphins and other animals use the acoustic spectrum above that of humans, 'ultrasound', to communicate and hunt. Our exhibit explores how engineers and scientists use ultrasound in amazing ways such as looking for cracks in aeroplane wings, to pattern living cells into new tissue or causing bubbles to vibrate violently and scrub surfaces clean.

There is a hidden world of sounds outside the frequencies humans can hear. Bats, insects and dolphins communicate and hunt using ultrasound, the acoustic spectrum above that of humans. Explore how engineers and scientists are using ultrasound in truly amazing ways.

We use low amplitude ultrasonic waves for imaging in medicine and engineering. Better imaging systems lead to better medical diagnosis and enhanced structural safety. Here, careful control of the ultrasonic field allows us to extract hidden information, such as the presence of tiny cracks, in exquisite detail.

Higher amplitude ultrasonic waves exert forces on objects through the acoustic radiation pressure. Again, careful control of the ultrasonic field is critical and we are exploring the dexterity with which ultrasonic forces can manipulate small particles such as cells or structural reinforcement. Much of our work uses lab-on-a-chip devices where new applications are emerging, for example medical diagnostics using minute samples.

Ultrasonic forces can be used to manipulate millions of cells at a time with no effect on the health of the cells, allowing the creation of structures of cells that mimic those in the body. Examples from our on-going research include levitating sheets of lung cells to form layered tissue models, and patterning liver cells to form artificial livers. We are also using the same technology to fabricate samples of new composite materials and see this as a new tool to improve additive manufacturing.

Discover how to make an ultrasonic levitator (PDF).

Lead image: The readout from wireless ultrasonic sensors used to locate cracks in structures in a similar way to how bats hunt for insects.