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€2m grant to develop ‘acoustic tweezers’ which could revolutionise laboratory microscopes

Dr Bruce Drinkwater, Professor of Ultrasonics

Press release issued: 11 April 2024

A University of Bristol scientist who has created a new ultrasonic technology with the potential to transform how microscopes are used in laboratories has been awarded €2m in funding from the European Research Council (ERC).

Professor Bruce Drinkwater, Professor of Ultrasonics in the School of Electrical, Electronic and Mechanical Engineering, is pioneering a new generation of microscale acoustics tweezer devices, which will allow researchers using microscopes to hold, move, assemble and quantify microscale objects such as cells and micro-organisms without physical contact.

The device will transform the use of microscopes into an interactive process. The devices will be compact, low power and low cost, meaning the functionality could be available to all microscope users.

Professor Drinkwater said: “I’m very excited to start this project which will allow me and my team to create a new generation of microscale acoustics tweezer devices. These will act as invisible hands that can be used to orient, assemble and deform objects under simultaneous microscopic examination.

“This funding will allow me and my collaborators to use these devices to tackle hugely important biomedical challenges such as improved tissue engineering and tracking disease progression using cell mechanical properties.

“My aim is to see one of these new acoustic tweezers in every biomedical lab.”

The technology will compliment widely used optical tweezers but allow the application of higher forces and the manipulation of larger objects.

Professor Drinkwater will be collaborating with leading researchers at the Bristol Medical School, as well as European colleagues at the University of Lille and Medical University in Innsbruck.

Professor Drinkwater is one of 255 outstanding research leaders in Europe set to be awarded ERC Advanced Grants.

The ERC funding is among the EU’s most prestigious and competitive, with more than 1,800 proposals submitted. The new grants will support cutting-edge research in a wide range of fields, from life sciences and physical sciences to social sciences and humanities.

Iliana Ivanova, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: "To all the new ERC grantees, my heartfelt congratulations! These grants will not only support leading researchers in pushing the boundaries of knowledge, but also create some 2,500 jobs for postdoctoral fellows, PhD students and other research staff across Europe. This investment nurtures the next generation of brilliant minds. I look forward to seeing the resulting breakthroughs and fresh advancements in the years ahead.”

President of the European Research Council Professor Maria Leptin added: “Congratulations to the 255 researchers who will receive grants to follow their scientific instinct in this new funding round. I am particularly happy to see more mid-career scientists amongst the Advanced Grant winners this time. I hope that it will encourage more researchers at this career stage to apply for these grants.”

The new grants, worth in total nearly €652 million, are part of the EU’s Horizon Europe programme.

The ERC, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premier European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. It funds creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based across Europe.

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