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Scientists 3D print using sound waves

Max Planck Institute scientists have developed technology that enables the assembly of matter in 3D using multiple acoustic holograms to generate pressure fields

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Scientists from the Micro, Nano, and Molecular Systems Lab at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research and the Institute for Molecular Systems Engineering, and Advanced Materials at Heidelberg University have created a new technology to assemble matter in 3D, using sound waves. Their concept uses multiple acoustic holograms to generate pressure fields with which solid particles, gel beads, and even biological cells can be printed. These results pave the way for novel 3D cell culture techniques with applications in biomedical engineering. The results of the study were published in the journal Science Advances.

“We were able to assemble microparticles into a three-dimensional object within a single shot using shaped ultrasound”, said Kai Melde, a Max Planck Institute postdoc in the group, and first author of the study.

“This can be very useful for bioprinting. The cells used there are particularly sensitive to the environment during the process”, said Peer Fischer, Professor at Heidelberg University.

Max Planck Institute scientists 3D print using sound waves - with technology that uses multiple acoustic holograms.
Source: Max Planck Institute for Medical Research.

Sound waves exert forces on matter – like the pressure waves from a loudspeaker. Using high-frequency ultrasound, which is inaudible to the human ear, the wavelengths can be pushed below a millimeter into the microscopic realm, which is used by the researchers to manipulate very small building blocks, like biological cells.

In their previous studies, Peer Fischer and colleagues showed how to form ultrasound using acoustic holograms – 3D printed plates, which are made to encode a specific sound field. Those sound fields, the researchers demonstrated, can be used to assemble materials into two-dimensional patterns. Based on this, the scientists devised the new fabrication concept.

The team captured particles and cells freely floating in water, and assemble them into three-dimensional shapes. The new method also works with a variety of materials including glass or hydrogel beads and biological cells. “The crucial idea was to use multiple acoustic holograms together and form a combined field that can catch the particles,” said Kai Melde.

“The digitization of an entire 3D object into ultrasound hologram fields is computationally very demanding and required us to come up with a new computation routine,” said Heiner Kremer, from the Max Planck Institute, who wrote the algorithm to optimize the hologram fields.

The scientists believe that their technology is a promising platform for the formation of cell cultures and tissues in 3D. The advantage of ultrasound is that it is gentle for using biological cells and that it can travel deep into tissue. This way, it can be used to remotely manipulate and push cells without harm.

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