Ultrasonic waves can be non-invasively steered and focused into mm-scale regions across the human body and brain, and their application in generating controlled artificial modulation of neuronal activity could therefore potentially have profound implications for neural science and engineering. Ultrasonic neuro-modulation phenomena were experimentally observed and studied for nearly a century, with recent discoveries on direct neural excitation and suppression sparking a new wave of investigations in models ranging from rodents to humans. In this paper we review the physics, engineering and scientific aspects of ultrasonic fields, their control in both space and time, and their effect on neuronal activity, including a survey of both the field’s foundational history and of recent findings. We describe key constraints encountered in this field, as well as key engineering systems developed to surmount them. In closing, the state of the art is discussed, with an emphasis on emerging research and clinical directions.