Sonic tweezers could be the future of bioterror analysis

Sonotweezers, a device being developed by a collaborative research team with partners from Bristol, Dundee, Southampton and Glasgow Universities, may soon allow first responders to detect bioterror agents with a tweezer-like device that utilizes ultrasonics.

When a potential anthrax mix is placed inside the sonotweezers, an ultrasonic force field will be generated onto the sample by an array of piezoelectric transducers. Differences in compressibility and density would then allow security officials to detect anthrax.

The researchers developing the sonotweezers received a $6.4 million grant from the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to complete research into the device by 2013. It is believed that the tweezers could provide a variety of uses for homeland security.

The tweezers are based on a silicon chip with an integrated cavity filled with an array of piezoelectric transducers. When a sample is placed inside this cavity, integrated transducers with varying voltage levels, phase and pulse shape will generate an ultrasonic force field onto the sample. From that force field, anthrax would be detected based on compressibility and density.

“The different compressibility of powder relative to the cell means the force is different so you are able to differentiate them,” Bruce Drinkwater, professor of ultrasonics in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Bristol and team leader for the project, told