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(S. Chakma, Dept. of Chem. Engg., IITG)

Ultrasound is the cyclic sound pressure with a frequency greater than the upper limit of
human hearing. In the field of sound waves, the density of the medium undergoes periodic
alteration with regions of alternating compression and rarefaction, figure 1. One of the most
important and basic properties of sound is its frequency. Base on the frequency, sound has
three subdivisions: infrasonic, sonic and ultrasonic. Frequencies in the range of 20 Hz to 20
kHz are called sonic range which is a human hearing frequency range. Frequencies below 20
Hz fall in the category infrasound and the frequencies greater than 20 kHz are called
ultrasonic waves.




compression rarefaction

The acoustic wave phenomena in a compressible medium. (a) Propagation of the
pressure in time, (b) The displacement of particles in time, (c) Compression and rarefaction

The propagation of the acoustic wave in the medium causes small amplitude variations in the
pressure, velocity and density of the medium. During the compression cycles a positive
pressure is exerted on the liquid which caused to push the molecules together, while
expansion cycles or rarefaction exert a negative pressure and pull molecules apart. If a
sufficiently large amount of negative acoustic pressure is applied to a liquid such that the
average distances between the molecules exceeds the critical molecular distance which holds
the liquid intact, the liquid breaks down and creates a void or cavity, and hence, cavitation
voids are be formed. Generation of cavitation through this way required enormous energy
input. However, in reality cavitation occurs at much lower pressure amplitude due to
presence of weak spots or ³nuclei´. These nuclei could be tiny gas pockets trapped in the
crevices of the solid boundaries of reactor or they could be small bubbles already suspended
in the liquid.


³Acoustic impedance´ is an analogue of resistance which is the ratio of driving force (i.e.
voltage) and the resulting velocity of the oscillatory motion (i.e. current). Applying the
Ohm¶s law, the applied pressure corresponds to voltage and the resulting velocity of the
oscillatory motion corresponds to current, the acoustic impedance can be written as follows:

ü   (1)


Where, ȡ is the density of the fluid (e.g. water), c is speed of sound in the fluid (1500m/s in
water) and the quantity, ȡc is the proportionality factor between the pressure and the velocity
of acoustic wave is called characteristic impedance of the medium. It is very easy to calculate
the characteristic impedance, suppose two common media air and water:
Air: ȡ = 1.17 kg/m3, c = 341m/s, ȡc = 400 kg/m2 s
Water: ȡ = 1000kg/m3, c = 1500m/s, ȡc = 1.5 x 10 6 kg/m2s

Acoustic intensity is nothing but the measure of the rate at which the energy in wave crosses
a unit area perpendicular to the direction of propagation. The total energy density, which is

given by Leighton (1994), is equal to     , where    is the velocity of the particle.

Therefore, the intensity of acoustic wave is:


O  !"#$ %&#'      (2)

The particle velocity,    , can be written in terms of pressure amplitude and acoustic
impedance as:
( )

Thus, the acoustic wave impedance is:


The word cavitation refers to a physical process which includes formation, growth and
collapse of gas or vapor bubbles under the influence of pressure variation in the system. In
1895, Sir John Thornycroft and Sidney Barnaby had revealed the phenomena of cavitation
during their study of erosion of the propeller blades of navy ships. On the basis of the
pressure variation, cavitation can be categorized as:

 is caused by the pressure variation in the liquid due to passage of an
acoustic wave. It generally occurs in the frequency range of 20 kHz ±1 MHz. It produces a
higher temperature and pressure.
2  Hydrdy

 is due to the pressure variation in the liquid flow generated by
the changing flow geometry. It generally occurs at low frequencies i.e. 1 kHz ± 10 kHz.
2 Y  

 is a result of local evaporation of liquid due to high-intensity light such
as laser.

 is produced by any elementary particle (such as proton) rupturing the


Different parameters are involved in affecting the cavitation mechanism. Cavitation refers to
the formation, growth and collapse of the gas or vapor bubbles due to the pressure variation
in the medium. Parameters that affect the cavitation and bubble collapse are properties of the
solvent, properties of gases, external pressure, external temperature and frequency of the
sound wave. How these parameters affect the cavitation are briefly described as follows:


2  r y The intensity of cavitation in liquid decreases as the ultrasound frequency
increases. At very high frequency, where the compression-rarefaction cycles are of quite
short duration, the time of rarefaction half cycle is too small to permit a bubble to grow to a
size sufficiently large to undergo a violent collapse. It has been observed that when frequency
is increased from 40 kHz to 1 MHz the growth cycle decrease from 25 to 0.5µs [Schueller
and Yang, 2001].

2    y Intensity is the one of the most important factor which affects the cavitation.
Larger the intensity means larger the acoustic amplitude and collapse pressure and hence
faster and more violent the collapse. At high acoustic pressure amplitude, smaller bubbles
become unstable which results cavitation. However, the sonication intensity cannot be
increased indefinitely as the maximum possible bubble size is also dependent on the pressure

2 r
d rr The application of external pressures which would cause
any suspended gas molecules to dissolve, thereby effectively removing the gas nuclei, has
also been found to raise the cavitation threshold. Increasing in the static pressure on a liquid
increases in mechanical impedance and as a result an increased acoustic power being
transferred to the liquid without any increase in electrical power.

2   r
r The cavitation threshold increases with decreasing temperature. This
may in part be due to an increase in either the surface tension or viscosity of the liquid as the
temperature decreases, or it may be due to the decreases in the liquid vapour pressure.

2   y The negative pressure in the expansion or rarefaction cycles must
overcome the natural cohesive forces acting in the liquid, any increase in such forces will
increase the cavitation threshold. One of the methods to increase these forces is to increase
the viscosity of the liquid.

2 y
 r r  d Every solvent has different physical properties. So, for an
appropriate reaction condition, the solvent medium becomes very important. Typical physical
properties of a solvent are: solvent viscosity, vapor pressure and surface tension. Higher
surface tension, lower viscosity and lower vapor pressure favour cavitation.


2 y   d d !
 Increasing the gas content of a liquid lowers the cavitational
threshold and reduces the intensity of the shock wave released as the bubble collapses.
Reducing the dissolved gas content of the liquid can be an approximate method to reduce the
number density of the bubbles, so that the bubble-bubble interactions are minimum and the
dynamics of a single bubble is influenced mainly by the ultrasound field.


The physical effects of ultrasound and cavitation, which give rise to strong convection in the
medium through various physical phenomena, are as follows:

2  "rr
 ! During propagation of ultrasound waves through a liquid medium, the
fluid elements undergo small-amplitude oscillatory motion around a mean position. This
phenomenon is called microstreaming. The amplitude of this oscillatory motion varies
directly with the pressure amplitude of the acoustic wave.

2  "rrb  r r   During radial motion of the bubble, the fluid in the
vicinity of the bubble is set into oscillatory motion, which is called microturbulence. The
velocity of the microturbulence varies directly with the amplitude of the oscillations of the
bubble. This phenomenon of microturbulence is restricted only in the close vicinity of the

2  #
 r  #
 During the transient collapse of the bubble, the fluid
elements in the vicinity of the bubble wall spherically converge toward the bubble wall. If the
bubble contains noncondensable gas, the pressure inside the bubble rises rapidly during the
transient collapse. At the point of minimum radius during transient collapse, the bubble wall
comes to a sudden halt and the converging fluid elements are reflected back. This reflection
creates a high-pressure acoustic (or shock) wave that propagates through the medium.

2 "r$ In the physical mechanism of ultrasound, the term ³microjet´ is one of the most
important. Microjet has high power to take off the adsorbed materials from the particles. If
the cavitation bubble is located close to a phase boundary, the motion of the liquid in its
vicinity is hindered, which results in development of a pressure gradient around the bubble.
Then the bubble exposed to a higher pressure collapses faster than the rest of the bubbles and


produces a high-speed liquid jet. These jets hit the surface with tremendous velocity (about
120-150m/s). In the case of rigid boundaries, these jets can cause erosion at the point of
impact. These jets can also cause particle size reduction.

Recently, the application of ultrasound is very common in chemical industries, medicine (viz.
diagnostic, animal research), biomedical, cleaning, and the characterization of particles etc.
Some applications of ultrasound are listed below:

 r% If ultrasound is applied, the temperature increases in the system, which
leads to a chemical reaction at room temperature. In chemical separation processes, stripping
is also referred to as desorption as one component of a liquid stream moves by mass transfer
into a vapor phase through the liquid-vapor inter phase. After adsorption, the adsorbed
chemical remains on the adsorbent indefinitely due to the interaction force (weak bond)
between the adsorbent and adsorbate, provided the temperature remains low. However, as the
temperature increases, the weak bond (such as van der Waals force, hydrophobic force,
electrostatic force and hydrogen bonding) breaks down and this leads to desorption process.
The total van der Waals interaction between molecules has three components: (1) Interaction
between two induced dipoles, which is known as London dispersion force, (2) Interaction
between two permanent dipoles, which is known as Keesom orientation force, and (3)
Interaction between one permanent dipole and one induced dipole, which is known as Debye
induction force.

d bd
% The most common application of ultrasound in medicine is
sonography. Sonography is generally described as a "safe test" because it does not use
mutagenic ionizing radiation, which may cause for chromosome breakage and cancer
development. However, ultrasonic energy has two potential physiological effects: (1) it
enhances inflammatory response, and (2) it can heat soft tissue. Ultrasound energy produces a
mechanical pressure wave through soft tissue. This pressure wave may cause microscopic
bubbles in living tissues and distortion of the cell membrane, influencing ion fluxes and
intracellular activity. When ultrasound is applied to human body, it causes molecular friction
and heats the tissues slightly. This effect is typically very minor as normal tissue perfusion


dissipates most of the heat, but at high intensity, cavitation occurs and it may cause small
pockets of gas in body fluids or tissues to expand or collapse. Some other applications of
ultrasound are:

(1)|To determine the date of pregnancy

(2)|To locate the fetus
(3)|To check for major physical abnormalities
(4)|To determine the sex of the baby
(5)|To break calculi such as kidney stones and gallstones into fragments small enough to
be passed from the body (Lithotripsy process).
(6)|To clean teeth, etc.

 !% Ultrasonic cleaners are used at frequencies from 20 to 40 kHz for jewellery, lenses &
other optical parts, watches and surgical instrument. Due to the cavitation, the bubble exposed to
a higher pressure and collapses faster than the rest of the bubbles and produces a high-speed
liquid jet. These jets hit the dirty surface with tremendous velocity (about 120-150m/s).
These jets can also cause particle size reduction.

  #d !% In ultrasonic welding of plastics, high frequency (15 - 40 kHz) and low
amplitude vibration is used to create heat by way of friction between the materials to be
joined. The interface of the two parts is specially designed to concentrate the energy for the
maximum weld strength.


Adewuyi YG; Sonochemistry: Environmental science and engineering application; Ind. Eng.
Chem. Res. 2001; 40: 4681-4715.

Castro MDLD and Capote FP; Analytical applications of ultrasound; Techniques and
instrumentation in analytical chemistry; 2007.

Moholkar VS; Intensification of textile treatments: sonoprocess engineering; Twente

University press; 2002.
Mason TJ and Lorimer JP; Applied sonochemistry: uses of power ultrasound in chemistry
and processing; Wiley-VCH; 2002.

Ultrasound; (accessed November 2010).