Scientists Use Sound to Levitate and Control Objects

February 1, 2014 7:42 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

As a high end audio dealer in Chicago, Quintessence Audio Ltd. likes to keep our finger on the pulse of the acoustic technology industry. Well, there are few things that will grab people’s attention more quickly and completely than when things start flying around the room. That’s what researchers at the University of Tokyo recently accomplished through a technique they’re calling Three-Dimensional Mid-Air Acoustic Manipulation.

If that name doesn’t do anything for your imagination, picture small objects silently hovering in mid-air, able to move in any direction with an almost eerie quickness and precision. Now imagine that those objects are being manipulated by sounds that you can’t even hear. If you’re picturing researchers in white lab coats playing a magical flute or something that can make objects dance in mid-air, you may need to throttle back on the imagining a bit.

The sound barrier

As it turns out, scientists have been using sound waves to levitate objects for decades now. Using speakers that generate sound at frequencies that are too high pitched for the human ear to detect, scientists have found that they can move small objects. In order to make an object float, they position one of these speakers above a reflector, allowing the sound wave to bounce back toward the speaker. This creates a standing wave inside of which objects can be suspended.

This happens because the standing wave interferes with itself to create special low-energy pockets. An object inside of these low energy pockets will be held perfectly in place by the rest of the sound wave. The object is essentially trapped inside of a “force field” with high-energy sound surrounding it and keeping it afloat. By adjusting the frequency of the sound wave, scientists can raise and lower the object.

Sound for the future

The way the University of Tokyo’s experiment differs from past examples is that it essentially doubles the amount of speakers and reflectors, allowing scientists to manipulate objects on three axes. This gives them the ability to move small objects in any direction they want.

Before you get excited about the possibility of turning on Harry Belafonte and floating around the room like Wynona Ryder in the final scene of Beetlejuice, it’s important, if only a little disappointing, to know that these speaker systems can only float small objects like grains of rice, water droplets, tiny screws and resistors, and that high frequency sound waves are not the type of thing you would necessarily want to aim at your body. However, this technology may open up some new doors for manufacturers, allowing them to manipulate materials in ways that were previously impossible.

At Quintessence Audio Ltd., we are proud to be the premier high end audio dealer in Chicago, offering the most technologically advanced audio equipment available on the commercial market. We carry the very best sound equipment that money can buy, so you can rest assured that if, in the future, consumer audio technology will allow you to soar through your living room, we’ll be the place to go.

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