Tech & science beat

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Elizabeth Suggs | Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of UVU Marketing


Physicists from UVU have found a new way to gauge the density of individual cells using acoustic levitation.

The process of using acoustic levitation includes removing a cell culture from the subject, such as a cell from a suspicious tumor. The cell is then placed into a fluid that mimics the human bloodstream. By using low-frequency sound waves, the physicists are able to move through the fluid and lock onto the cell culture. After the first sound wave, a second wave is released at a much higher frequency. The wave reacts to the cells and sends back information about the density of the cell. This process is called cell acoustic levitation. It’s able to distinguish healthy and unhealthy cells.

“The stiffness of the cell is the primary change detected with our high-frequency ultrasound; it reveals detailed information about the internal structure of the cell and how it changes in certain diseases,” Brian Patchett, a research assistant and instructor in the Department of Physics, said in a written statement.TIMOTHYDOYLE_0192 (1)

The reason a different frequency in sound can determine whether a cell is cancerous or not, according to Patchett, is that the density of the cell changes, depending on whether it is unhealthy or healthy. By using the varying sound frequencies, the physicists are able to locate which cells are healthy and which are not.

“Our results are far more successful because of a mixture of ‘know how’ and luck,” Patchett said. “We started using a very specific form and it worked the first time.”

According to Patchett, previous experiments on cells using high and low frequency were done in a petri dish. While this was beneficial because physicists could watch the cells grow and change, the cells sometimes behaved in ways the physicists didn’t expect, including ways they may not have acted in the human body.

“There’s an uncertainty with a petri dish,” Patchett said. “With so much noise-reflection off the plate, it’s hard to know what’s going on.”

According to Patchett, with so much reflecting into the petri dish, the margin of error is too large. A way to tighten the margin of error, according to Patchett is by acoustic levitation. With this process, data found from the cells is cleaner, more accurate and better at discerning breast cancers.

“It currently takes us a few minutes to determine what’s wrong,” Patchett said in reference to acoustic levitation. “But it depends on the patient, the sample and how the sample is prepared. Maybe it’ll be 20 minutes to determine what’s wrong.”

By contrast petri dishes, according to Patchett, take a few days to determine what’s wrong.