ultrasonics

ultrasonics

[uhl-truh-son-iks]
ultrasonics, study and application of the energy of sound waves vibrating at frequencies greater than 20,000 cycles per second, i.e., beyond the range of human hearing. The application of sound energy in the audible range is limited almost entirely to communications, since increasing the pressure, or intensity, of sound waves increases loudness and therefore causes discomfort to human beings. Ultrasonic waves, however, being inaudible, have little or no effect on the ear even at high intensities. They are produced, commonly, by a transducer containing a piezoelectric substance, e.g., a quartz-crystal oscillator that converts high-frequency electric current into vibrating ultrasonic waves. Ultrasonics has found wide industrial use. For nondestructive testing an object is irradiated with ultrasonic waves; variation in velocity or echo of the transmitted waves indicates a flaw. Fine machine parts, ball bearings, surgical instruments, and many other objects can be cleaned ultrasonically. They are placed in a liquid, e.g., a detergent solution or a solvent, into which ultrasonic waves are introduced. By a phenomenon called cavitation, the vibrations cause large numbers of invisible bubbles to explode with great force on the surfaces of the objects. Film or dirt is thus removed even from normally inaccessible holes, cracks, and corners. Radioactive scale is similarly removed from nuclear reactor fuel and control rods. In medicine ultrasonic devices are used to examine internal organs without surgery and are safer to genetic material than X rays. The waves with which the body is irradiated are reflected and refracted; these are recorded by a sonograph for use in diagnosis (see ultrasound for further description of medical uses). Metals can be welded together by placing their surfaces in contact with each other and irradiating the contact with ultrasound. The molecules are stimulated into rearranged crystalline form, making a permanent bond. Ultrasonic whistles, which cannot be heard by human beings, are audible to dogs and are used to summon them.

Vibrational or stress waves in elastic media that have a frequency above 20 kilohertz, the highest frequency of sound waves that can be detected by the human ear. They can be generated or detected by piezoelectric transducers (see piezoelectricity). High-power ultrasonics produce distortion in a medium; applications include ultrasonic welding, drilling, irradiation of fluid suspensions (as in wine clarification), cleaning of surfaces (such as jewelry), and disruption of biological structures. Low-power ultrasonic waves do not cause distortions; uses include sonar, structure testing, and medical imaging and diagnosis. Some animals, including bats, employ ultrasonic echolocation for navigation.

Learn more about ultrasonics with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Ultrasonics is a trade term coined by the Ultrasonic Manufacturers Association and used by its successor, the Ultrasonic Industry Association, to refer to the use of high-intensity acoustic energy to change materials. This usage is contrasted to ultrasound, which is generally reserved for imaging, as in sonar, materials examination (NDI), and diagnostics (mammography, doppler bloodflow, etc.). However, in spite of this distinction, much technical material on ultrasound imaging actually uses the term ultrasonics, for example

  • Ultrasonic Flaw Detection for Technicians, 3rd ed., 2004 by J. C. Drury
  • Ultrasonic nondestructive evaluation : engineering and biological material characterization, Boca Raton, FL : CRC Press, c2004, by Tribikram Kundu

Ultrasonication offers great potential in the processing of liquids and slurries, by improving the mixing and chemical reactions in various applications and industries. Ultrasonication generates alternating low-pressure and high-pressure waves in liquids, leading to the formation and violent collapse of small vacuum bubbles. This phenomenon is termed cavitation and causes high speed impinging liquid jets and strong hydrodynamic shear-forces. These effects are used for the deagglomeration and milling of micrometre and nanometre-size materials as well as for the disintegration of cells or the mixing of reactants. In this aspect, ultrasonication is an alternative to high-speed mixers and agitator bead mills. Ultrasonic foils under the moving wire in a paper machine will use the shock waves from the imploding bubbles to distribute the cellulose fibres more uniform in the produced paper web, which will make a stronger paper with more even surfaces, see more on Ultra Technology Furthermore, chemical reactions benefit from the free radicals created by the cavitation as well as from the energy input and the material transfer through boundary layers. For many processes, this sonochemical (see sonochemistry) effect leads to a substantial reduction the reaction time, like in the transesterification of oil into biodiesel. Ultrasonication can easily be tested in lab scale for its effect on various liquid formulations. Within the past five years equipment manufacturers like Hielscher developed a number of larger ultrasonic processors of up to 16 kW power. Therefore volumes from 1mL up to several hundred gallons per minute can be sonicated today in order to achieve all kinds of results from the link that is shown below.

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