Tao Wang

Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Mechanical Engineering

Major Professor

Rasim Guldiken, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Nathan Crane, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Nathan Gallant, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Garrett Matthews, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jing Wang, Ph.D.


SH-SAWs, SAWs, Pumping, Biosensor, Cancer Detection


Surface acoustic waves (SAWs) have a large number of applications and the majority of them are in the sensor and actuator fields targeted to satisfy market needs. Recently, researchers have focused on optimizing and improving device functions, sensitivity, power consumption, etc. However, SAW actuators and sensors still cannot replace their conventional counterparts in some mechanical and biomedical areas, such as actuators for liquid pumping under microfluidic channels and sensors for real-time cell culture monitoring. The two objectives of this dissertation are to explore the potential of piezoelectric materials and surface acoustic waves for research on actuators and sensors in the mechanical pump and biosensor areas.

Manipulation of liquids in microfluidic channels is important for many mechanical, chemical and biomedical applications. In this dissertation, we first introduced a novel integrated surface acoustic wave based pump for liquid delivery and precise manipulation within a microchannel. The device employed a hydrophobic surface coating (Cytop) in the device design to decrease the friction force and increase the bonding. Contrary to previous surface acoustic wave based pumps which were mostly based on the filling and sucking process, we demonstrated long distance media delivery (up to 8mm) and a high pumping velocity, which increased the device’s application space and mass production potential. Additionally, the device design didn’t need precise layers of water and glass between substrate and channel, which simplified the design significantly. In this study, we conducted extensive parametric studies to quantify the effects of the liquid volume pumped, microchannel size, and input applied power as well as the existence of hydrophobic surface coating on the pumping velocity and pump performance. Our results indicated that the pumping velocity for a constant liquid volume with the same applied input power could be increased by over 130% (2.31 mm/min vs 0.99 mm/min) by employing a hydrophobic surface coating (Cytop) in a thinner microchannel (250 µm vs 500 µm) design. This device could be used in circulation, dosing, metering and drug delivery applications which necessitated small-scale precise liquid control and delivery.

This dissertation also introduced a novel SAW-based sensor designed and employed for detecting changes in cell concentration. Before conducting cell concentration experiments, preliminary experiments were conducted on weight concentration differentiation of microfluidic particles based on a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) channel and surface acoustic wave resonator design. The results confirmed that our device exerted an ultra-stable status to detect liquid properties by monitoring continuous fluids. An improved design was carried out by depositing a 200 nm ZnO layer on top of the lithium tantalate substrate surface increased the sensitivity and enabled cell concentration detection in a microfluidic system.

Comprehensive studies on cell viability were carried out to investigate the effect of shear horizontal (SH) SAWs on both a cancerous (A549 lung adenocarcinoma) and a non-cancerous (RAW264.7 macrophage) cell line. Two pairs of resonators consisting of interdigital transducers (IDTs) and reflecting fingers were used to quantify mass loading by the cells in suspension media as well as within a 3-dimensional cell culture model. In order to predict the characteristics and optimize the design of the SH-SAW biosensor, a 3D COMSOL model was built to simulate the mass loading response of the cell suspensions. These results were compared to experimental data generated by pipetting cell concentrations of 3.125K, 6.25K 12.5K, 25K and 50K cells per 100µL into the PDMS well and measuring to obtain the relative frequency shift from the two oscillatory circuit systems (one of which functioned as a control). Frequency shift measurements were also collected from A549 cells cultured on a 3D nanofiber scaffold produced by electrospinning to evaluate the device’s ability to detect changes in cell density as the cells proliferated in culture over the course of eight days. The device’s ability to detect changes in cell density over time in a 3D model along with its biocompatibility reveal great potential for this device to be incorporated into 3D in vitro cancer research applications.