Miniature manipulation

Researchers at Bristol University are helping to create an electronic sonotweezer that can manipulate microscopic particles.

A £4m four-year EPSRC grant has been awarded to a research team led by Bruce Drinkwater, professor of ultrasonics in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Bristol University, to create an electronic sonotweezer device that can manipulate microscopic particles.

The group plans to show how the new device can improve upon existing ultrasound, optical and dielectrophoresis particle manipulation systems.

The team believes that the electronically controlled sonotweezers could be used in forensic science or homeland security, for applications such as cell sorting and counting of micro and potentially nano materials, sensing and detection, and bioassay technology.

The biological applications are also interesting. For example, in tissue engineering, the researchers can potentially bring together small populations of cells for multilayered structures that better replicate such things as the lining of the lung.

While optical tweezers offer the potential of doing this cell by cell, the sonotweezers would allow researchers to operate on groups of cells and produce artificial tissue on a much larger scale.

Prof Bruce Drinkwater said: ‘Various groups have demonstrated the basic principle and, like the work on optical tweezers in the 1980s and 90s, the race is on to develop devices to best exploit this phenomenon.’

The electronic sonotweezers collaborative research team comprises partners from Bristol, Dundee, Southampton and Glasgow universities.