Ultrasound and Nanotechnology

The group is researching into the use of ultrasonics in dentistry. The two areas of research are the release of antimicrobials triggered by ultrasound and the development of a novel ultrasonic surgical scalpel controlled by robots.

Damien-picture (2)

Professor Damien Walmsley

Prinicipal Investigator and Group Lead

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Zoe Pikramenou

Professor Zoe Pikramenou

Prinicipal Investigator

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Ben Scheven

Dr Ben Scheven

Principal Investigator

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Sarah Kuehne

Dr Sarah Kuehne

Principal Investigator

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Dr Dick Shelton

Principal Investigator

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Our research group

This is an interdisciplinary group that brings together clinicians and scientists to solve clinical problems in the clinical field. The results of our work will lead to the development of novel ultrasonic instruments in the fields of oral surgery and periodontology. Work in nanotechnology will bring about alternative treatment of infections of the tooth.

Figure 1
Figure 1

EPSRC Photography Competition Innovation category, third prize: Up, up and away by Dr Nina Vyas, former post doc at University of Birmingham.  This underwater bubble, captured with a camera that takes more than 6,000 images per second, has the power to clean surfaces. It rests on the tip of a dental cleaning instrument and starts to dance, in a phenomenon known as cavitation, which happens when ultrasound passes through water. Tiny bubbles grow and collapse, emitting energy used for cleaning. We are finding out how cavitation bubbles could be enhanced to clean teeth and dental implants more effectively and with less pain.
Photograph: Dr Nina Vyas/2019 EPSRC Photography Competition

Figure 2
Figure 2

Schematic of how an ultrasonic scaler tip could be used to clean bacterial biofilm from dental implants in a non-touch mode using the cavitation generated around the tip. Inset: High speed camera image of cavitation bubbles occurring around the tip of the commercially available ultrasonic scaler tested in this study.

Figure 3
Figure 3

(a-d) High speed video stills showing cavitation around an ultrasonic scaler tip in still water, or in low, medium and high carbonation respectively. (e) Cavitation area around the tip over time at the different carbonation levels, calculated using image analysis from high-speed videos (n = 5). (f) Total cavitation area around the tip at the different carbonation levels, calculated using image analysis from the high-speed videos.

Figure 4
Figure 4

Electron micrographs of the submicron silica particles on the dentine surface at x11,000 magnification (a) particles in 50% acetone, no cavitation applied (b) particles in water, no cavitation applied (c) particles in 50% acetone, cavitation applied (d) particles in water, cavitation applied. (e) SEM images showing the silica particles sealed inside some dentinal tubules, outlined in yellow. Particles in water, no cavitation applied. (f) SEM images showing indentations in the dentine when cavitation was applied (particles in water).

High speed videos taken at 500 frames per second showing biofilm removal from all of the surfaces tested using cavitation from an ultrasonic scaler, at different standoff distances. (a) rough (sandblasted) Thermanox™ surface (b) smooth Thermanox™ surface (c) rough (sand blasted and acid etched) titanium surface (d) smooth (machined) titanium surface.

Current projects


A project looking into utilising ultrasound in surgery. Supported by a programme grant from EPSRC for over £6m in funding, Ultrasurge will last 5 years and look into a series of interrelated themes around the effect of ultrasound on tissue, the miniaturisation of ultrasound transducers, and using external robots to direct ultrasound tipped robot tentacles to the surgery site within the body. (EP/R045291/1)

The programme is led by Prof Margaret Lucas at the University of Glasgow with teams based at the Universities of Birmingham, Edinburgh, Leeds and Southampton.


The Investigator team:

  • Margaret Lucas, Professor of Ultrasonics, University of Glasgow
  • Sandy Cochran, Professor of Ultrasound Materials and Systems, University of Glasgow
  • Fabrice Pierron, Professor of Solid Mechanics, University of Southampton
  • Hamish Simpson, Professor of Orthopaedics and Trauma, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, University of Edinburgh
  • Pietro Valdastri, Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems, University of Leeds
  • Damien Walmsley, Professor of Restorative Dentistry, University of Birmingham
  • Dick Shelton, Senior Lecturer and Head of Biomaterials Unit, University of Birmingham
  • Ben Scheven, Senior Lecturer in Oral Cell Biology


ßDental implants are an exciting procedure which replaces a patient's lost teeth.  However, bacteria in the mouth will grow on the metal surface leading to gum disease.  If not removed it will lead to loss of this expensive treatment.  It is a huge worldwide problem and currently no methods exist that remove the bacteria effectively. Ultrasonic scalers are an everyday instrument used by dentists to clean teeth.  The vibrating metal probe generates bubble activity when used with water.  This bubble activity is termed cavitation and could be used to vigorously scrub the implant surface removing the bacteria. Our previous work shows that the bubble activity can work but it is too slow for clinical use. Clinicians like this idea but want it to work quickly and effectively. To solve current and major problem associated with cleaning of implant surfaces, we have brought together a unique team of dentists and mathematicians which we have called "DENTaMATHics". We have planned new designs or improvements to the current ultrasound scaler: to improve the tip shape and operation conditions, to implement cavitation prone liquids, and to implement a shield-cover design to a scaler tip. (EPSRC EP/P015743/1)

SONATA (UltraSOuNd-controlled release of Antimicrobial agents for localised Treatment of dentAl tissues)

Our goal and vision is to develop a novel platform for temporal and spatial control of drug release from silica particles (SP). This will be triggered by ultrasound, allowing the SP to reach and disrupt dental biofilms in inaccessible sites. We have assembled a multidisciplinary team with expertise in inorganic chemistry, dentistry and fluid mechanics. The team will determine the optimal conditions for ultrasound activation and delivery of novel SP in sophisticated endodontic model structures, biofilms and explanted teeth using advanced flow characterisation and imaging. We will validate this approach with clinically applied ultrasound probes in dentistry and will accelerate this development in dental practice with industry and dental partners. Our research aims to tackle problems in dental healthcare but a wider impact towards translation into other areas is envisioned, in alignment with UKRI Healthcare Technology Grand Challenge of Developing Future Therapies.


  • Vyas N, Wang QX, Walmsley AD. Improved biofilm removal using cavitation from a dental ultrasonic scaler vibrating in carbonated water. Ultrason Sonochem. 2020 Sep 3;70:105338. doi: 10.1016/j.ultsonch.2020.105338. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 32979637.
  • Vyas N, Mahmud M, Wang QX, Walmsley AD. Imaging and Quantification of the Area of Fast-Moving Microbubbles Using a High-Speed Camera and Image Analysis. J Vis Exp. 2020 Sep 5;(163). doi: 10.3791/61509. PMID: 32955504.
  • Vyas N, Sammons RL, Kuehne SA, Johansson C, Stenport V, Wang QX, Walmsley AD. The effect of standoff distance and surface roughness on biofilm disruption using cavitation. PLoS One. 2020 Jul 30;15(7):e0236428. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0236428. PMID: 32730291; PMCID: PMC7392287
  • Vyas N, Grewal M, Kuehne SA, Sammons RL, Walmsley AD. High speed imaging of biofilm removal from a dental implant model using ultrasonic cavitation. Dent Mater. 2020 Jun;36(6):733-743. doi: 10.1016/j.dental.2020.03.003. Epub 2020 Apr 13. PMID: 32299665.
  • Vyas N, Sammons RL, Pikramenou Z, Palin WM, Dehghani H, Walmsley AD. Penetration of sub-micron particles into dentinal tubules using ultrasonic cavitation. J Dent. 2017 Jan;56:112-120. doi: 10.1016/j.jdent.2016.11.006. Epub 2016 Nov 21. PMID: 27884720.


PI(s): Damien Walmsley (Ultrasurge, Dentamatics, Sonata), Dick Shelton (Ultrasurge), Ben Scheven (Ultrasurge), Sarah Keuhne (Sonata), Qianxi Wang (Dentamatics – School of Mathematics - EPS)Zoe Pikramenou (Sonata – Lead PI – School of Chemistry – EPS)

Postdocs: Dhanak Gupta (Ultrasurge), Mehdi Mahmud (Dentamatics – School of Mathematics - EPS)

Students: Olga Yevlashevskaya (Ultrasuge), Jasper Natarajan (Ultrasurge), Lisa Shrine (Ultrasurge), Menisha Manhota (Sonata – SciPhy4Health)