If you find yourself bored sometime, don’t automatically reach for your phone or TV remote. Why not try levitating some objects instead? Thanks to some researchers at the University of Bristol, that could be your next rainy day activity. TinyLev is a 3D printed acoustic levitator capable of suspending small bits of matter like water and paper in mid-air, and the scientists have published instructions so that anyone can make their own.

Acoustic levitation uses strong acoustic waves to push particles from all directions and hold them in mid-air. It’s not as strong as magnetic levitation, which uses magnetic fields to suspend objects, but it can be used on all manner of materials from liquids to living things. Acoustic levitation uses ultrasound waves, which are beyond human hearing, to produce powerful force without harming the ears.

The researchers used parking sensors, a motor driver, an Arduino, and a 3D printed part to fabricate the levitator, which is safe for anyone to use and is resistant to temperature and humidity. Objects to be levitated are placed between two 3D printed bowl-shaped objects attached to a frame; the ultrasonic transducers are mounted within the bowls. The work was documented in a study entitled “TinyLev: A multi-emitter single-axis acoustic levitator,” which you can read here.

In the study, the scientists levitated several objects including water, coffee, paper, and even insects. TinyLev is capable of levitating objects over 2.2 g/cm3 density and 4 mm in diameter, consuming only 10 watts of input power. That leaves plenty of room for experimentation – a student or hobbyist who builds one of the levitators can have hours of fun trapping a wide variety of objects in midair. The levitator has potential for much more than just at-home or classroom experiments, however.

“Levitating samples in mid-air can improve diagnosis from blood samples and detection of the structure of molecules,” explained Dr. Asier Marzo of the University of Bristol’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “Usually a sample on a microscope slide is illuminated with x-rays, lasers or another type of radiation so the reflected radiation can be analysed. 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.”

TinyLev is not the first 3D printed levitation device we’ve seen – there’s even a 3D printer being made using ultrasonic manipulation properties – but you can easily build this one yourself. The frame of the levitator can be 3D printed in one piece, and the other components are inexpensive and easy to find. Instructions included as part of the research paper allow anyone to build their own levitation machine, opening up a new realm of scientific experimentation to the general public.

Levitated samples using TinyLev. (a) A 40 μμl supersaturated solution of isopropyl and tin dioxide, 2.5 mm in diameter. (b) Ant, 6 mm long without the antennas. (c) Polylactic acid, 2 mm width fragments. (d) MOSFET TC4427, 5 × 1.45 × 3.85 mm. (e) Ketchup and mustard, 3 mm wide. (f) Water, 3 mm wide. (g) Sugar crystal, 1 mm wide.

“Acoustic levitation has been explored in hundreds of studies for applications in pharmaceuticals, biology or biomaterials,” continued Dr. Marzo. “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. 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.”

Authors of the study include Asier Marzo, Adrian Barnes and Bruce W. Drinkwater. Discuss in the Acoustic Levitator forum at 3DPB.com.

[Images: Marzo et al, Review of Scientific Instruments]

 

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