We report a label-free acoustic microfluidic method to confine single, cilia-driven swimming cells in space without limiting their rotational degrees of freedom. Our platform integrates a surface acoustic wave (SAW) actuator and bulk acoustic wave (BAW) trapping array to enable multiplexed analysis with high spatial resolution and trapping forces that are strong enough to hold individual microswimmers. The hybrid BAW/ SAW acoustic tweezers employ high-efficiency mode conversion to achieve submicron image resolution while compensating for parasitic system losses to immersion oil in contact with the microfluidic chip. We use the platform to quantify cilia and cell body motion for wildtype biciliate cells, investigating effects of environmental variables like temperature and viscosity on ciliary beating, synchronization, and three-dimensional helical swimming. We confirm and expand upon the existing understanding of these phenomena, for example determining that increasing viscosity promotes asynchronous beating. Motile cilia are subcellular organelles that propel microorganisms or direct fluid and particulate flow. Thus, cilia are critical to cell survival and human health. The unicellular alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii is widely used to investigate the mechanisms underlying ciliary beating and coordination. However, freely swimming cells are difficult to image with sufficient resolution to capture cilia motion, necessitating that the cell body be held during experiments. Acoustic confinement is a compelling alternative to use of a micropipette, or to magnetic, electrical, and optical trapping that may modify the cells and affect their behavior. Beyond establishing our approach to studying microswimmers, we demonstrate a unique ability to mechanically perturb cells via rapid acoustic positioning.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2218951120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number25
StatePublished - Jun 20 2023


  • Microswimmers
  • acoustic tweezers
  • acoustofluidics
  • cilia and flagella


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