Invisible knife slices with sound waves

Summary:A lens that converts light to sound could lead to painless, noninvasive surgeries.

Researchers from the University of Michigan are well on their way to creating an “invisible scalpel” by using a super-precise lens that can covert light to sound.

By coating a lens with carbon nanotubes, the scientists were able to focus sound waves to finer points than ever before, which could someday lead to painless and noninvasive surgeries.

Unlike the somewhat bulky ultrasound technology that doctors use to blast kidney stones and prostrate tumors today, the Michigan team’s sound wave beam can be concentrated to an extremely precise 75 micrometers. The beam can blast and cut using pressure, rather than heat, and can operate so precisely that it’s possible it could avoid nerve fibers all together.

“We believe this could be used as an invisible knife for noninvasive surgery,” team leader and professor of electrical engineering Jay Guo said in a statement. “Nothing pokes into your body, just the ultrasound beam. And it is so tightly focused, you can disrupt individual cells.”

To convert light to sound, the researchers coated their lens with carbon nanotubes and a rubbery compound called polydimethylsiloxane. The carbon nanotube layer absorbs light and uses it to generate heat causing the rubbery layer to expand and resulting in a sound wave that is 10,000 times higher frequency than humans can hear.

The team hopes that someday the beam will be used to blast cancerous tumors or even deliver drugs to single cells. Read more about Guo’s research in the latest issue of Scientific Reports.

[via Futurity]

Image: University of Michigan, Mikael Altermark/Flickr

This post was originally published on

Topics: Innovation


Contributing Editor Sarah Korones is a freelance writer based in New York. She has written for Psychology Today and Boston's Weekly Dig. She holds a degree from Tufts University. Follow her on Twitter.

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