Researchers levitate objects with speakers

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

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The particles are those little gray-looking dots.

At loud concerts, sometimes it’s possible to feel the music… literally. After all, sound waves have certain physical effects on the air. Well, researchers from the University of Tokyo took advantage of these properties to levitate objects using speakers.

“When you step in front of a speaker, you can feel the pressure of the sound,” said Argonne National Laboratory senior physicist Chris Benmore. “But when you have two speakers facing each other, there are regions where it’s twice as loud and regions where they cancel out. In the areas where it’s canceled is a little void.” These voids are also known as nodes, and if an object is small enough to fit inside, the wave pressure will essentially keep it levitated without magic. Don’t think any regular ol’ speakers will do the trick though.

In order to produce the correct pressure, the Japanese researchers had to use ultrasonic waves – sounds that are too high-pitched for the human ear to hear. By altering their strength, the researchers could also use the waves to move an object up and down, back and forth, and left to right. This is the first time scientists have been able to maneuver in all three dimensions like that. “It is a real advance, and it opens new possibilities for levitation,” says acoustic levitation expert Rick Weber of Materials Development. While the technology won’t be used for magic tricks, it may play a serious role in the medical field.

According to experts, this levitating process is already useful in making amorphous drugs – liquid solutions which are many times stronger than their solid counterparts. According to Weber, the most practical use for this technology is in space, under conditions of microgravity where the effects of gravity are dramatically reduced.

“It has not escaped our notice that our developed method for levitation under gravity suggests the possibility of developing a technology for handling objects under microgravity,” concluded the researchers.

Images courtesy of Yoichi Ochiai on YouTube.