(Image credit: University of Bristol via YouTube)

 

As strange as it may sound (literally), we could one day float in midair with the help of sound waves. A little technique known as sonic levitation. Engineers from the University of Bristol have created a new acoustic trap that produces two vortex-shaped sound waves to trap (levitate) objects more massive than the wavelengths themselves.

 

According to the engineers, “This discovery opens the door to the manipulation of drug capsules or micro-surgical implements within the human body. Container-less transportation of delicate larger samples is now also a possibility and who knows, this could be a step towards levitating humans.” This is a significant feat, considering previous tractor beams could only levitate objects smaller than the sound waves themselves, anything larger would become unstable and rotate in the in the same direction the sound waves were traveling faster and faster until its ejected.

 


The Engineers used a different approach that keeps the object from becoming unstable by using a pair of rapidly fluctuating tornado-like sound vortices with loud sound but a silent core. They discovered the vortices rotation rate could be controlled by quickly changing their direction and thus stabilize the tractor beam. What’s more, they could increase the size of the object levitating by increasing the size of that silent core, which are ultrasonic waves operating at a frequency of 40kHz. The engineers were able to demonstrate their findings by holding a two-centimeter polystyrene sphere in the tractor beam, an object twice the size of the vortices themselves.

 

What this means is that in the future, much more substantial objects, even humans, could be levitated safely without becoming unstable. Not only that but since an object in the acoustic beam experiences ‘radiation force’ due to scattering those sound waves, they could be used to move or manipulate those objects like those in science fiction movies. The engineers state it is only a matter of increasing the acoustic power for levitating large objects and the potential applications range from the manipulation of drug capsules within the body to contactless production lines where delicate objects are assembled without having to touch them. It will be interesting to see where their development leads and if humans will indeed be able to levitate sometime in the near future. Dogs shiver in fear already.

 

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