This is really cool:
If it looks like something that would happen in space, that’s the point: acoustic levitation was originally developed by NASA to simulate microgravity. Two small speakers create a standing wave, allowing the droplets to float on waves of sound. Here’s what that has to do with drugs:
At the molecular level, pharmaceutical structures fall into one of two categories: amorphous or crystalline. Amorphous drugs typically are more efficiently taken up by the body than their crystalline cousins; this is because amorphous drugs are both more highly soluble and have a higher bioavailability, suggesting that a lower dose can produce the desired effect.
Getting pharmaceuticals from solution into an amorphous state, however, is no easy task. If the solution evaporates while it is in contact with part of a vessel, it is far more likely to solidify in its crystalline form. “It’s almost as if these substances want to find a way to become crystalline,” Benmore said.
In order to avoid this problem, Benmore needed to find a way to evaporate a solution without it touching anything….
Levitation or “containerless processing” can form pristine samples that can be probed in situ with the high-energy X-ray beam at Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source. “This allows amorphization of the drug to be studied while it is being processed,” said Rick Weber, who works on the project team at the synchrotron.
The technology itself isn’t new; here’s a levitation chamber built by Dr. David Deak in the late ’80s/early ’90s, while doing microgravity research for NASA. The levitated object is a Christmas ornament.