A compact sampling tool mechanism that can operate at various temperatures, and transport and sieve particle sizes of powdered cuttings and soil grains with no moving parts, has been created using traveling surface acoustic waves (SAWs) that are emitted by an inter-digital transducer (IDT). The generated waves are driven at about 10 MHz, and it causes powder to move towards the IDT at high speed with different speeds for different sizes of particles, which enables these particles to be sieved.

An automobile windshield with an Inter-Digital Transducer is shown as a replacement for movable wiper blades.

This design is based on the use of SAWs and their propelling effect on powder particles and fluids along the path of the waves. Generally, SAWs are elastic waves propagating in a shallow layer of about one wavelength beneath the surface of a solid substrate. To generate SAWs, a piezoelectric plate is used that is made of LiNbO3 crystal cut along the x-axis with rotation of 127.8º along the y-axis. On this plate are printed pairs of fingerlike electrodes in the form of a grating that are activated by subjecting the gap between the electrodes to electric field. This configuration of a surface wave transmitter is called IDT. The IDT that was used consists of 20 pairs of fingers with 0.4-mm spacing, a total length of 12.5 mm. The surface wave is produced by the nature of piezoelectric material to contract or expand when subjected to an electric field.

Driving the IDT to generate wave at high amplitudes provides an actuation mechanism where the surface particles move elliptically, pulling powder particles on the surface toward the wavesource and pushing liquids in the opposite direction. This behavior allows the innovation to separate large particles and fluids that are mixed. Fluids are removed at speed (7.5 to 15 cm/s), enabling this innovation of acting as a bladeless wiper for raindrops. For the windshield design, the electrodes could be made transparent so that they do not disturb the driver or pilot.

Multiple IDTs can be synchronized to transport water or powder over larger distances. To demonstrate the transporting action, a video camera was used to record the movement. The speed of particles was measured from the video images.

This work was done by Yoseph Bar-Cohen, Xiaoqi Bao, Stewart Sherrit, Mircea Badescu, and Shyh-shiuh Lih of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-46252

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
High-Speed Transport of Fluid Drops and Solid Particles via Surface Acoustic Waves

(reference NPO-46252) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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This article first appeared in the December, 2012 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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