Autonomous motion of metallic microrods propelled by ultrasound

Wei Wang, Luz Angelica Castro, Mauricio Hoyos, Thomas E. Mallouk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

587 Scopus citations


Autonomously moving micro-objects, or micromotors, have attracted the attention of the scientific community over the past decade, but the incompatibility of phoretic motors with solutions of high ionic strength and the use of toxic fuels have limited their applications in biologically relevant media. In this letter we demonstrate that ultrasonic standing waves in the MHz frequency range can levitate, propel, rotate, align, and assemble metallic microrods (2 μm long and 330 nm diameter) in water as well as in solutions of high ionic strength. Metallic rods levitated to the midpoint plane of a cylindrical cell when the ultrasonic frequency was tuned to create a vertical standing wave. Fast axial motion of metallic microrods at ∼200 μm/s was observed at the resonant frequency using continuous or pulsed ultrasound. Segmented metal rods (AuRu or AuPt) were propelled unidirectionally with one end (Ru or Pt, respectively) consistently forward. A self-acoustophoresis mechanism based on the shape asymmetry of the metallic rods is proposed to explain this axial propulsion. Metallic rods also aligned and self-assembled into long spinning chains, which in the case of bimetallic rods had a head-to-tail alternating structure. These chains formed ring or streak patterns in the levitation plane. The diameter or distance between streaks was roughly half the wavelength of the ultrasonic excitation. The ultrasonically driven movement of metallic rods was insensitive to the addition of salt to the solution, opening the possibility of driving and controlling metallic micromotors in biologically relevant media using ultrasound.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6122-6132
Number of pages11
JournalACS nano
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 24 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Materials Science
  • General Engineering
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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