ZnO thin film based surface acoustic wave (SAW) devices have been utilized to fabricate microfluidic pumps. The SAW devices were fabricated on nanocrystalline ZnO piezoelectric thin films deposited on Si substrates using rf magnetron sputtering and use a Sezawa wave mode for effective droplet motion. The as-deposited ZnO surface is hydrophilic, with a water contact angle of ~75°, which prevents droplet pumping. Therefore, the ZnO surface was coated using a self-assembled monolayer of octadecyltrichlorosilane which forms a hydrophobic surface with a water contact angle of ~110°. Liquid droplets between 0.5 and 1 µl in volume were successfully pumped on the hydrophobic ZnO surface at velocities up to 1 cm s-1. Under acoustic pressure, the water droplet on an hydrophilic surface becomes deformed, and the asymmetry in the contact angle at the trailing and leading edges allow the force acting upon the droplet to be calculated. These forces, which increase with input voltage above a threshold level, are found to be in the range of ~100 µN. A pulsed rf signal has also been used to demonstrate precision manipulation of the liquid droplets. Furthermore, a SAW device structure is demonstrated in which the ZnO piezoelectric only exists under the input and output transducers. This structure still permits pumping, while avoiding direct contact between the piezoelectric material and the fluid. This is of particular importance for biological laboratory-on-a-chip applications. © 2009 American Institute of Physics.