Drops of liquid can float in midair with the help of sound waves, and U.S. scientists are putting this “containerless processing” technology to good use.
When a team of researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National
Laboratory needed a way to evaporate liquid drugs without letting them touch anything, they found an unlikely solution: levitation.
They accomplished this with a machine called an acoustic levitator, which has a pair of speakers that face each other and generate sound waves too high-pitched to hear. The speakers are perfectly aligned so that, at certain points between them, the pressure from the sound waves cancels out gravity.
Small objects, including drops of liquid, will hover at these points. With the help of the levitating liquid, scientists are researching ways to make drugs with fewer side effects.
“One of the biggest challenges when it comes to drug development is in reducing the amount of the drug needed to attain the therapeutic benefit, whatever it is,” said study lead scientist Chris Benmore in a press release.
Drugs can have two types of molecular structures—amorphous or crystalline—and it’s easier for the body to absorb amorphous drugs.
“Most drugs on the market are crystalline—they don’t get fully absorbed by the body and thus we aren’t getting the most efficient use out of them,” said Yash Vaishnav, a senior manager at Argonne, in the release.
Making amorphous drugs isn’t easy. When liquid drug solutions are solidified in a container, they usually become crystalline because they are touching something.
“It’s almost as if these substances want to find a way to become crystalline,” said Benmore.
Levitating the liquid solves this problem, allowing it to evaporate in midair.
Right now, only a few drops can be levitated at a time, but this is helping scientists study different drugs to find out which ones can be improved with the new technology.
The research was published by Argonne National Laboratory on Sept. 12.
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