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Hold on to your wand, Harry Potter: Science has outdone even your best "Leviosa!" levitation spell. Researchers report that they have levitated objects with sound waves, and moved those objects around in midair, according to a new study. Scientists have used sound waves to suspend objects in midair for decades, but the new method, described today (July 15) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, goes a step further by allowing people to manipulate suspended objects without touching them. This levitation technique could help create ultrapure chemical mixtures, without contamination, which could be useful for making stem cells or other biological materials. Parlor trick For more than a century, scientists have proposed the idea of using the pressure of sound waves to make objects float in the air. As sound waves travel, they produce changes in the air pressure — squishing some air molecules together and pushing others apart. By placing an object at a certain point within a sound wave, it's possible to perfectly counteract the force of gravity with the force exerted by the sound wave, allowing an object to float in that spot. In previous work on levitation systems, researchers had used transducers to produce sound waves, and reflectors to reflect the waves back, thus creating standing waves. "A standing wave is like when you pluck the string of a guitar," said study co-author Daniele Foresti, a mechanical engineer at the ETH Zürich in Switzerland. "The string is moving up and down, but there are two points where it's fixed." Using these standing waves, scientists levitated mice and small drops of liquid. But then, the research got stuck. Acoustic levitation seemed to be more of a parlor trick than a useful tool: It was only powerful enough to levitate relatively small objects; it couldn't levitate liquids without splitting them apart, and the objects couldn't be moved.