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Ultrasonics

Ultrasonics

The term ultrasonics applies to sound waves that vibrate at a frequency higher than the frequency that can be heard by the human ear (or higher than about 20,000 hertz).

Sound is transmitted from one place to another by means of waves. The character of any wave can be described by identifying two related properties: its wavelength (indicated by the Greek letter lambda, λ ) or its frequency (f). The unit used to measure the frequency of any wave is the hertz (abbreviation: Hz). One hertz is defined as the passage of a single wave per second.

Ultrasonics, then, deals with sound waves that pass a given point at least 20,000 times per second. Since ultrasonic waves vibrate very rapidly, additional units also are used to indicate their frequency. The kilohertz (kHz), for example, can be used to measure sound waves vibrating at the rate of 1,000 (kilo means 1,000) times per second, and the unit megahertz (MHZ) stands for a million vibrations per second. Some ultrasonic devices have been constructed that produce waves with frequencies of more than a billion hertz.

Production of ultrasonic waves

The general principle involved in generating ultrasonic waves is to cause some dense material to vibrate very rapidly. The vibrations produced by this material than cause air surrounding the material to begin vibrating with the same frequency. These vibrations then spread out in the form of ultrasonic waves.

Words to Know

Hertz (Hz): The unit of frequency; a measure of the number of waves that pass a given point per second of time.

Kilohertz (kHz): One thousand hertz.

Megahertz (MHZ): One thousand kilohertz, or one million hertz.

Piezoelectric: A material that becomes electrically charged when compressed, generating an electric current.

Ultrasound: Another term for ultrasonic waves; sometimes reserved for medical applications.

Wavelength: The distance between one part of a wave and the next identical part of the wave.

In most applications, ultrasonic waves are generated by applying an electric current to a special kind of crystal known as a piezoelectric crystal. The crystal converts electrical energy into mechanical energy, which, in turn, causes the crystal to vibrate at a high frequency. In another technique, a magnetic field is applied to a crystal, causing it to emit ultrasonic waves.

Applications

There are numerous practical applications for ultrasonics. The first widespread use was in underwater exploration. Ultrasonic waves proved to be an excellent method for determining the depth of water. Ultrasonics also are used to map the shape of lake and ocean floors. Submarines use ultrasonic waves to maintain secret contact with each other.

In industry, ultrasonic waves have been used in the testing of machinery and machine parts. Using a narrow beam of ultrasound, engineers can look inside metal parts in much the same way that doctors use X rays to examine the human body. With ultrasonic technology, flaws in machinery can be detected and repaired without having to take them apart.

Similar ultrasonic methods have been used to diagnose problems in the human body. As an ultrasonic beam passes through the body, it encounters different types of tissue such as flesh, bone, and organs. Each type of tissue causes the ultrasonic beam to reflect in a different way. By studying these reflections, physicians can accurately map the interior of the body. Unlike X rays, there is no risk of harmful overexposure with ultrasonics. Therefore, they have become a useful alternative to X rays for diagnosis and are often used on sensitive organs, such as kidneys, as well as to monitor the progress of pregnancies.

Because they can vibrate the particles through which they pass, ultrasonic waves are often used to shake, or even destroy, certain materials. An example of this procedure is ultrasonic emulsification. In this technique, two liquids that normally do not mix with each other (such as oil and water) are made to vibrate until they are blended. This technique is also used to remove air bubbles from molten metals before casting so that the finished piece will be free of cavities. Doctors use ultrasound to break up kidney stones and gallstones, thus avoiding invasive (cutting through the skin with a knife) surgery.

Ultrasonic vibration also can be used to kill bacteria in milk and other liquids. Some inventors are attempting to perfect an "ultrasonic laundry," using high-frequency vibrations to shake dirt and other particles out of clothing.

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ultrasonics

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.

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ultrasonics

ultrasonics Study of sound waves with frequencies beyond the upper limit of human hearing (above 20,000Hz). In medicine, ultrasonics are used to locate a tumour, to scan a pregnant woman's abdomen in order to produce a ‘picture’ of the fetus, and to treat certain neurological disorders. Other applications of ultrasonics include the agitation of liquids to form emulsions, detection of flaws in metals (the ultrasonic wave passed through a metal is reflected by a hairline crack), cleaning small objects by vibrating them ultrasonically in a solvent, echo sounding in deep water, and soldering aluminium.

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ultrasonics

ultrasonics The study and use of pressure waves that have a frequency in excess of 20 000 Hz and are therefore inaudible to the human ear. Ultrasound is used in medical diagnosis, particularly in conditions such as pregnancy, in which X-rays could have a harmful effect.

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ultrasonics

ul·tra·son·ics / ˌəltrəˈsäniks/ • pl. n. [treated as sing.] the science and application of ultrasonic waves. ∎  [treated as sing. or pl.] ultrasonic waves; ultrasound.

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ultrasonics

ultrasonics (ultră-sonn-iks) n. the study of the uses and properties of ultrasound.
ultrasonic adj.

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Ultrasonics

ULTRASONICS

CONCEPT

The word ultrasonic combines the Latin roots ultra, meaning "beyond," and sonic, or sound. The field of ultrasonics thus involves the use of sound waves outside the audible range for humans. These sounds have applications for imaging, detection, and navigationfrom helping prospective parents get a glimpse of their unborn child to guiding submarines through the oceans. Ultrasonics can be used to join materials, as for instance in welding or the homogenization of milk, or to separate them, as for example in extremely delicate cleaning operations. Among the broad sectors of society that regularly apply ultrasonic technology are the medical community, industry, the military, and private citizens.

HOW IT WORKS

In the realm of physics, ultrasonics falls under the category of studies in sound. Sound itself fits within the larger heading of wave motion, which is in turn closely related to vibration, or harmonic (back-and-forth) motion. Both wave motion and vibration involve the regular repetition of a certain form of movement; and in both, potential energy (think of the energy in a sled at the top of a hill) is continually converted to kinetic energy (like the energy of a sled as it is sliding down the hill) and back again.

Wave motion carries energy from one place to another without actually moving any matter. Waves themselves may consist of matter, as for instance in the case of a wave on a plucked string or the waves on the ocean. This type of wave is called a mechanical wave, but again, the matter itself does not undergo any net displacement over horizontal space: contrary to what our eyes tell us, molecules of water in an ocean wave move up and down, but they do not actually travel with the wave itself. Only the energy is moved.

Sound Waves

Then there are waves of pulses, such as light, sound, radio, or electromagnetic waves. Sound travels by means of periodic waves, a period being the amount of time it takes a complete wave, from trough to crest and back again, to pass through a given point. These periodic waves are typified by a sinusoidal pattern. To picture a sinusoidal wave, one need only imagine an x-axis crossed at regular intervals by a curve that rises above the line to point y before moving downward, below the axis, to point y. This may be expressed also as a graph of sin x versus x. In any case, the wave varies by equal distances upward and downward as it moves along the x-axis in a regular, unvarying pattern.

Periodic waves have three notable interrelated characteristics. One of these is speed, typically calculated in seconds. Another is wavelength, or the distance between a crest and the adjacent crest, or a trough and the adjacent trough, along a plane parallel to that of the wave itself. Finally, there is frequency, the number of waves passing through a given point during the interval of one second.

Frequency is measured in terms of cycles per second, or Hertz (Hz), named in honor of the nineteenth-century German physicist Heinrich Hertz. If a wave has a frequency of 100 Hz, this means that 100 waves are passing through a given point during the interval of one second. Higher frequencies are expressed in terms of kilohertz (kHz; 103 or 1,000 cycles per second) or megahertz (MHz; 106 or 1 million cycles per second.)

Clearly, frequency is a function of the wave's speed or velocity, and the same relationshipthough it is not so obvious intuitivelyexists between wavelength and speed. Over the interval of one second, a given number of waves pass a certain point (frequency), and each wave occupies a certain distance (wavelength). Multiplied by one another, these two properties equal the velocity of the wave.

An additional characteristic of waves (though one that is not related mathematically to the three named above) is amplitude, or maximum displacement, which can be described as the distance from the x-axis to either the crest or the trough. Amplitude is related to the intensity or the amount of energy in the wave.

These four qualities are easiest to imagine on a transverse wave, described earlier with reference to the x-axisa wave, in other words, in which vibration or harmonic motion occurs perpendicular to the direction in which the wave is moving.

Such a wave is much easier to picture, for the purposes of illustrating concepts such as frequency, than a longitudinal wave; but in fact, sound waves are longitudinal. A longitudinal wave is one in which the individual segments vibrate in the same direction as the wave itself. The shock waves of an explosion, or the concentric waves of a radio transmission as it goes out from the station to all points within receiving distance, are examples of longitudinal waves. In this type of wave pattern, the crests and troughs are not side by side in a line; they radiate outward. Wavelength is the distance between each concentric circle or semicircle (that is, wave), and amplitude the "width" of each wave, which one may imagine by likening it to the relative width of colors on a rainbow.

Having identified its shape, it is reasonable to ask what, exactly, a sound wave is. Simply put, sound waves are changes in pressure, or an alternation between condensation and rarefaction. Imagine a set of longitudinal wavesrepresented as concentric circlesradiating from a sound source. The waves themselves are relatively higher in pressure, or denser, than the "spaces" between them, though this is just an illustration for the purposes of clarity: in fact the "spaces" are waves of lower pressure that alternate with higher-pressure waves.

Vibration is integral to the generation of sound. When the diaphragm of a loudspeaker pushes outward, it forces nearby air molecules closer together, creating a high-pressure region all around the loudspeaker. The diaphragm is pushed backward in response, thus freeing up a volume of space for the air molecules. These then rush toward the diaphragm, creating a low-pressure region behind the high-pressure one. As a result, the loudspeaker sends out alternating waves of high pressure (condensation) and low pressure (rarefaction). Furthermore, as sound waves pass through a mediumair, for the purposes of this discussionthey create fluctuations between density and rarefaction. These result in pressure changes that cause the listener's eardrum to vibrate with the same frequency as the sound wave, a vibration that the ear's inner mechanisms translate and pass on to the brain.

The Speed of Sound: Consider the Medium

The speed of sound varies with the hardness of the medium through which it passes: contrary to what you might imagine, it travels faster through liquids than through gasses such as air, and faster through solids than through liquids. By definition, molecules are closer together in harder material, and thus more quickly responsive to signals from neighboring particles. In granite, for instance, sound travels at 19,680 ft per second (6,000 mps), whereas in air, the speed of sound is only 1,086 ft per second (331 mps). It follows that sound travels faster in water5,023 ft per second (1,531 mps), to be exactthan in air. It should be clear, then, that there is a correlation between density and the ease with which a sound travels. Thus, sound cannot travel in a vacuum, giving credence to the famous tagline from the 1979 science fiction thriller Alien: "In space, no one can hear you scream."

When sound travels through a medium such as air, however, two factors govern its audibility: intensity or volume (related to amplitude and measured in decibels, or dB) and frequency. There is no direct correlation between intensity and frequency, though for a person to hear a very low-frequency sound, it must be above a certain decibel level. (At all frequencies, however, the threshold of discomfort is around 120 decibels.)

In any case, when discussing ultrasonics, frequency and not intensity is of principal concern. The range of audibility for the human ear is from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz, with frequencies below that range dubbed infrasound and those above it referred to as ultrasound. (There is a third category, hypersound, which refers to frequencies above 1013, or 10 trillion Hz. It is almost impossible for hypersound waves to travel through most media, because its wavelengths are so short.)

What Makes the Glass Shatter

The lowest note of the eighty-eight keys on a piano is 27 Hz and the highest 4,186 Hz. This places the middle and upper register of the piano well within the optimal range for audibility, which is between 3,000 and 4,000 Hz. Clearly, the higher the note, the higher the frequencybut it is not high frequency, per se, that causes a glass to shatter when a singer or a violinist hits a certain note. All objects, or at least all rigid ones, possess their own natural frequency of vibration or oscillation. This frequency depends on a number of factors, including material composition and shape, and its characteristics are much more complex than those of sound frequency described above. In any case, a musician cannot cause a glass to shatter simply by hitting a very high note; rather, the note must be on the exact frequency at which the glass itself oscillates. Under such conditions, all the energy from the voice or musical instrument is transferred to the glass, a sudden burst that overloads the object and causes it to shatter.

To create ultrasonic waves, technicians use a transducer, a device that converts energy into ultrasonic sound waves. The most basic type of transducer is mechanical, involving oscillators or vibrating blades powered either by gas or the pressure of gas or liquidsthat is, pneumatic or hydrodynamic pressure, respectively. The vibrations from these mechanical devices are on a relatively low ultrasonic frequency, and most commonly they are applied in industry for purposes such as drying or cleaning.

An electromechanical transducer, which has a much wider range of applications, converts electrical energy, in the form of current, to mechanical energythat is, sound waves. This it does either by a magnetostrictive or a piezoelectric device. The term "magnetostrictive" comes from magneto, or magnetic, and strictio, or "drawing together." This type of transducer involves the magnetization of iron or nickel, which causes a change in dimension by forcing the atoms together. This change in dimension in turn produces a high-frequency vibration. Again, the frequency is relatively low in ultrasonic terms, and likewise the application is primarily industrial, for purposes such as cleaning and machining.

Most widely used is a transducer equipped with a specially cut piezoelectric quartz crystal. Piezoelectricity involves the application of mechanical pressure to a nonconducting crystal, which results in polarization of electrical charges, with all positive charges at one end of the crystal and all negative charges at the other end. By successively compressing and stretching the crystal at an appropriate frequency, an alternating electrical current is generated that can be converted into mechanical energyspecifically, ultrasonic waves.

Scientists use different shapes and materials (including quartz and varieties of ceramic) in fashioning piezoelectric crystals: for instance, a concave shape is best for an ultrasonic wave that will be focused on a very tight point. Piezoelectric transducers have a variety of applications in ultrasonic technology, and are capable of acting as receivers for ultrasonic vibrations.

REAL-LIFE APPLICATIONS

Pets and Pests: Ultrasonic Behavior Modification

Some of the simplest ultrasonic applications build on the fact that the upper range of audibility for human beings is relatively low among animals. Cats, by comparison, have an infrasound threshold only slightly higher than that of humans (100 Hz), but their ultrasound range of audibility is much greater32,000 Hz instead of a mere 20,000. This explains why a cat sometimes seems to respond mysteriously to noises its owner is incapable of hearing.

For dogs, the difference is even more remarkable: their lower threshold is 40 Hz, and their high end 46,000 Hz, giving them a range more than twice that of humans. It has been said Paul McCartney, who was fond of his sheepdog Martha, arranged for the Beatles' sound engineer at Abbey Road Studios to add a short 20,000-Hz tone at the very end of Sgt. Peppers' Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967. Thusif the story is truethe Beatles' human fans would never hear the note, but it would be a special signal to Martha and all the dogs of England.

On a more practical level, a dog whistle is an extremely simple ultrasonic or near-ultrasonic device, one that obviously involves no transducers. The owner blows the whistle, which utters a tone nearly in audible to humans butlike McCartney's 20,000-Hz tonewell within a dog's range. In fact, the Acme Silent Dog Whistle, which the company has produced since 1935, emits a tone that humans can hear (the listed range is 5,800 to 12,400 Hz), but which dogs can hear much better.

There are numerous products on the market that use ultrasonic waves for animal behavior modification of one kind or another; however, most such items are intended to repel rather than attract the animal. Hence, there are ultrasonic devices to discourage animals from relieving themselves in the wrong places, as well as some which keep unwanted dogs and cats away.

Then there is one of the most well-known uses of ultrasound for pets, which, rather than keeping other animals out, is designed to keep one's own animals in the yard. Many people know this item as an "Invisible Fence," though in fact that term is a registered trademark of the Invisible Fence Company. The "Invisible Fence" and similar products literally create a barrier of sound, using both radio signals and ultrasonics. The pet is outfitted with a collar that contains a radio receiver, and a radio transmitter is placed in some centrally located place on the owner's propertya basement, perhaps, or a garage. The "fence" itself is "visible," though usually buried, and consists of an antenna wire at the perimeter of the property. The transmitter sends a signal to the wire, which in turn signals the pet's collar. A tiny computer in the collar emits an ultrasonic sound if the animal tries to stray beyond the boundaries.

Not all animals have a higher range of hearing than humans: elephants, for instance, cannot hear tones above 12,000 Hz. On the other hand, some are drastically more sensitive acoustically than dogs: bats, whales, and dolphins all have an upper range of 150,000 Hz, though both have a low-end threshold of 1,000. Mice, at 100,000 Hz, are also at the high end, while a number of other pestsrodents and insectsfall into the region between 40,000 and 100,000 Hz. This fact has given rise to another type of ultrasonic device, for repelling all kinds of unwanted household creatures by bombarding them with ear-splitting tones.

An example of this device is the Transonic 1X-L, which offers three frequency ranges: "loud mode" (1,000-50,000 Hz); "medium mode" (10,000-50,000 Hz); and "quiet mode" (20,000-50,000 Hz). The lowest of these can be used for repelling pest birds and small animals, the medium range for insects, and the "quiet mode" for rodents.

ultrasonic Detection in Medicine

Medicine represents one of the widest areas of application for ultrasound. Though the machinery used to provide parents-to-be with an image of their unborn child is the most well-known form of medical ultrasound, it is far from the only one. Developed in 1957 by British physician Ian Donald (1910-1987), also a pioneer in the use of ultrasonics to detect flaws in machinery, ultra-sound was first used to diagnosis a patient's heart condition. Within a year, British hospitals began using it with pregnant women.

High-frequency waves penetrate soft tissue with ease, but they bounce off of harder tissue such as organs and bones, and thus send back a message to the transducer. Because each type of tissue absorbs or deflects sound differently, according to its density, the ultrasound machine can interpret these signals, creating an image of what it "sees" inside the patient's body. The technician scans the area to be studied with a series of ultrasonic waves in succession, and this results in the creation of a moving picture. It is this that creates the sight so memorable in the lives of many a modern parent: their first glimpse of their child in its mother's womb.

Though ultrasound enables physicians and nurses to determine the child's sex, this is far from being the only reason it is used. It also gives them data concerning the fetus's size; position (for instance, if the head is in a place that suggests the baby will have to be delivered by means of cesarean section); and other abnormalities.

The beauty of ultrasound is that it can provide this information without the danger posed by x rays or incisions. Doctors and ultrasound technicians use ultrasonic technology to detect body parts as small as 0.004 in (0.1 mm), making it possible to conduct procedures safely, such as locating foreign objects in the eye or measuring the depth of a severe burn. Furthermore, ultrasonic microscopes can image cellular structures to within 0.2 microns (0.002 mm).

Ultrasonic heart examination can locate tumors, valve diseases, and accumulations of fluid. Using the Doppler effectthe fact that a sound's perceived frequency changes as its source moves past the observerphysicians observe shifts in the frequency of ultrasonic measurements to determine the direction of blood flow in the body. Not only can ultrasound be used to differentiate tumors from healthy tissue, it can sometimes be used to destroy those tumors. In some cases, ultrasound actually destroys cancer cells, making use of a principle called cavitationa promising area of ultrasound research.

Perhaps the best example of cavitation occurs when you are boiling a pot of water: bubblestemporary cavities in the water itselfrise up from the bottom to the surface, then collapse, making a popping sound as they do. Among the research areas combining cavitation and ultrasonics are studies of light emissions produced in the collapse of a cavity created by an ultrasonic wave. These emissions are so intense that for an infinitesimal moment, they produce heat of staggering proportionshotter than the surface of the Sun, some scientists maintain. (Again, it should be stressed that this occurs during a period too small to measure with any but the most sophisticated instruments.)

As for the use of cavitation in attacking cancer cells, ultrasonic waves can be used to create microscopic bubbles which, when they collapse, produce intense shock waves that destroy the cells. Doctors are now using a similar technique against gallstones and kidney stones. Other medical uses of ultrasound technology include ultrasonic heat for treating muscle strain, orin a process similar to some industrial applicationsthe use of 25,000-Hz signals to clean teeth.

Sonar and Other Detection Devices

Airplane pilots typically use radar, but the crew of a ocean-going vessel relies on sonar (SOund Navigation and Ranging) to guide their vessel through the ocean depths. This technology takes advantage of the fact that sound waves travel well under watermuch better, in fact, than light waves. Whereas a high-powered light would be of limited value underwater, particularly in the murky realms of the deep sea, sonar provides excellent data on the water's depth, as well as the location of shipwrecks, large obstaclesand, for commercial or even recreational fishermenthe presence of fish.

At the bottom of the craft's hull is a transducer, which emits an ultrasonic pulse. These sound waves travel through the water to the bottom, where they bounce back. Upon receiving the echo, the transducer sends this information to an onboard computer, which converts data on the amount of time the signal took, providing a reading of distance that gives an accurate measurement of the vessel's clearance. For instance, it takes one second for sound waves from a depth of 2,500 ft (750 m) to return to the ship. The onboard computer converts this data into a rough picture of what lies below: the ocean floor, and schools of fish or other significant objects between it and the ship.

Even more useful is a scanning sonar, which adds dimension to the scope of the ship's ultrasonic detection: not only does the sonar beam move forward along with the vessel, but it moves from side-to-side, providing a picture of a wider area along the ship's path. Sonar in general, and particularly scanning sonar, is of particular importance to a submarine's crew. Despite the fact that the periscope is perhaps the most notable feature of these underwater craft, from the viewpoint of a casual observer, in fact, the purely visual data provided by the periscope is of limited valueand that value decreases as the sub descends. It is thanks to sonar (which produces the pinging sound one so often hears in movie scenes depicting the submarine control room), combined with nuclear technology, that makes it possible for today's U.S. Navy submarines to stay submerged for months.

Sonar is perhaps the most dramatic use of ultrasonic technology for detection; less wellknownbut equally intriguing, especially for its connection with clandestine activityis the use of ultrasonics for electronic eavesdropping. Private detectives, suspicious spouses, and no doubt international spies from the CIA or Britain's MI5, use ultrasonic waves to listen to conversations in places where they cannot insert a microphone. For example, an operative might want to listen in on an encounter taking place on the seventh floor of a building with heavy security, meaning it would be impossible to plant a microphone either inside the room or on the window ledge.

Instead, the operative uses ultrasonic waves, which a transducer beams toward the window of the room being monitored. If people are speaking inside the room, this will produce vibrations on the window the transducer can detect, although the sounds would not be decipherable as conversation by a person with unaided perception. Speech vibrations from inside produce characteristic effects on the ultrasonic waves beamed back to the transducer and the operative's monitoring technology. The transducer then converts these reflected vibrations into electrical signals, which analysts can then reconstruct as intelligible sounds.

Much less dramatic, but highly significant, is the use of ultrasonic technology for detection in industry. Here the purpose is to test materials for faults, holes, cracks, or signs of corrosion. Again, the transducer beams an ultrasonic signal, and the way in which the material reflects this signal can alert the operator to issues such as metal fatigue or a faulty weld. Another method is to subject the material or materials to stress, then look for characteristic acoustic emissions from the stressed materials. (The latter is a developing field of acoustics known as acoustic emission.)

Though industrial detection applications can be used on materials such as porcelain (to test for microscopic cracks) or concrete (to evaluate how well it was poured), ultrasonics is particularly effective on metal, in which sound moves more quickly and freely than any other type of wave. Not only does ultrasonics provide an opportunity for thorough, informative, but nondestructive testing, it also allows technicians to penetrate areas where they otherwise could not goor, in the case of ultrasonic inspection of the interior of a nuclear reactor while in operationwould not and should not go.

Binding and Loosening: A Host of Industrial Applications

Materials testing is but one among myriad uses for ultrasonics in industry, applications that can be described broadly as "binding and loosening"either bringing materials together, or pulling them apart.

For instance, ultrasound is often used to bind, or coagulate, loose particles of dust, mist, or smoke. This makes it possible to clean a factory smokestack before it exhales pollutants into the atmosphere, or to clear clumps of fog and mist off a runway. Another form of "binding" is the use of ultrasonic vibrations to heat and weld together materials. Ultrasonics provides an even, localized flow of molten material, and is effective both on plastics and metals.

Ultrasonic soldering implements the principle of cavitation, producing microscopic bubbles in molten solder, a process that removes metal oxides. Hence, this is a case of both "binding" (soldering) and "loosening"removing impurities from the area to be soldered. The dairy industry, too, uses ultrasonics for both purposes: ultrasonic waves break up fat globules in milk, so that the fat can be mixed together with the milk in the well-known process of homogenization. Similarly, ultrasonic pasteurization facilitates the separation of the milk from harmful bacteria and other microorganisms.

The uses of ultrasonics to "loosen" include ultrasonic humidification, where in ultrasonic vibrations reduce water to a fine spray. Similarly, ultrasonic cleaning uses ultrasound to break down the attraction between two different types of materials. Though it is not yet practical for home use, the technology exists today to use ultrasonics for laundering clothes without using water: the ultrasonic vibrations break the bond between dirt particles and the fibers of a garment, shaking loose the dirt and subjecting the fabric to far less trauma than the agitation of a washing machine does.

As noted earlier, dentists use ultrasound for cleaning teeth, another example of loosening the bond between materials. In most of these forms of ultrasonic cleaning, a critical part of the process is the production of microscopic shock waves in the process of cavitation. The frequency of sound waves in these operations ranges from 15,000 Hz (15 kHz) to 2 million Hz (2 MHz). Ultrasonic cleaning has been used on metals, plastics, and ceramics, as well as for cleaning precision instruments used in the optical, surgical, and dental fields. Nor is it just for small objects: the electronics, automotive, and aircraft industries make heavy use of ultrasonic cleaning for a variety of machines.

Ultrasonic "loosening" makes it possible to drill though extremely hard or brittle materials, including tungsten carbide or precious stones. Just as a dental hygienist cleaning a person's teeth bombards the enamel with gentle abrasives, this form of high-intensity drilling works hand-in-hand with the use of abrasive materials such as silicon carbide or aluminum oxide.

A World of Applications

Scientists often use ultrasound in research, for instance to break up high molecular weight polymers, thus creating new plastic materials. Indeed, ultrasound also makes it possible to determine the molecular weight of liquid polymers, and to conduct other forms of investigation on the physical properties of materials.

Ultrasonics can also speed up certain chemical reactions. Hence, it has gained application in agriculture, thanks to research which revealed that seeds subjected to ultrasound may germinate more rapidly and produce higher yields. In addition to its uses in the dairy industry, noted above, ultrasonics is of value to farmers in the related beef industry, who use it to measure cows' fat layers before taking them to market.

In contrast to the use of ultrasonics for electronic eavesdropping, as noted earlier, today ultrasonic technology is available to persons who think someone might be spying on them: now they can use ultrasonics to detect the presence of electronic eavesdropping, and thus circumvent it. Closer to home is another promising application of ultrasonics for remote sensing of sounds: ultrasonic stereo speakers.

These make use of research dating back to the 1960s, which showed that ultrasound waves of relatively low frequency can carry audible sound to pinpointed locations. In 1996, Woody Norris had perfected the technology necessary to reduce distortion, and soon he and his son Joe began selling the ultrasonic speakers through the elder Norris's company, American Technology Corporation of San Diego, California.

Eric Niiler in Business Week described a demonstration: "Joe Norris twists a few knobs on a receiver, takes aim with a 10-inch-square gold-covered flat speaker, and blasts an invisible beam. Thirty feet away, the tinny but easily recognizable sound of Vivaldi's Four Seasons rushes over you. Step to the right or left, however, and it fades away. The exotic-looking speaker emits 'sound beams' that envelop the listener but are silent to those nearby. 'We use the air as our virtual speakers,' says Norris." Niiler went to note several other applications suggested by Norris: "Airline passengers could listen to their own music channel sans headphones without disturbing neighbors. Troops could confuse the enemy with 'virtual' artillery fire, or talk to each other without having their radio communications picked up by eavesdroppers."

WHERE TO LEARN MORE

Beiser, Arthur. Physics, 5th ed. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1991.

Crocker, Malcolm J. Encyclopedia of Acoustics. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997.

Knight, David C. Silent Sound: The World of Ultrasonics. New York: Morrow, 1980.

Langone, John. National Geographic's How Things Work. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1999.

Medical Ultrasound WWW Directory (Web site). <http://www.ultrasoundinsider.com> (February 16, 2001).

Niiler, Eric; edited by Alex Salkever. "Now Here ThisIfYou're in the Sweet Spot." Business Week, October 16, 2000.

Meire, Hylton B. and Pat Farrant. Basic Ultrasound. Chichester, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons, 1995.

Suplee, Curt. Everyday Science Explained. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1996.

KEY TERMS

FREQUENCY:

The number of waves passing through a given point during the interval of one second. The higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength.

HERTZ:

A unit for measuring frequency, equal to one cycle per second. If a sound wave has a frequency of 20,000 Hz, this means that 20,000 waves are passing through a given point during the interval of one second. Higher frequencies are expressed in terms of kilohertz (kHz; 103 or 1,000 cycles per second) or megahertz (MHz; 106 or 1 million cycles per second.) Hence 20,000 Hzthe threshold of ultrasonic soundwould be rendered as 20 kHz.

INFRASOUND:

Sound of a frequency between 20 Hz, which places it outside the range of audibility for human beings. Its opposite is ultrasound.

LONGITUDINAL WAVE:

A wave in which the individual segments vibrate in the same direction as the wave itself. This is in contrast to a transverse wave, or one in which the vibration or harmonic motion occurs perpendicular to the direction in which the wave is moving. Waves on the ocean are an example of transverse waves;by contrast, the shock waves of an explosion, the concentric waves of a radio transmission, and sound waves are all examples of longitudinal waves.

TRANSDUCER:

A device that converts energy into ultrasonic sound waves.

ULTRASOUND:

Sound waves with a frequency above 20,000 Hz, which makes them in audible to the human ear. Its opposite is infrasound.

WAVELENGTH:

The distance, measured on a plane parallel to that of the wave itself, between a crest and the adjacentcrest, or the trough and an adjacent trough. On a longitudinal wave, this is simply the distance between waves, which constitute a series of concentric circles radiating from the source.

WAVE MOTION:

Activity that carries energy from one place to another without actually moving any matter.

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Ultrasonics

Ultrasonics

How ultrasonic waves are generated

Applications

Coagulation

Humidification

Ultrasonic dispersion

Milk homogenization and pasteurization

Ultrasonic cleaning

Welding

Drilling

Soldering

Nondestructive testing

Scientific research

Medicine

Electronic eavesdropping

Detection devices

Radio

Resources

Ultrasonics is the science and technology of ultrasound. The word ultrasonic derives from the Latin words ultra, meaning beyond, and sonic, meaning sound, is a term used to describe sound waves that vibrate more rapidly than the human ear can detect.

Ideallyradiating from a point source in an infinite, uniform mediumsound waves travel as concentric hollow spheres. The surfaces of the spheres are compressions of the air (or other) molecules, and the spaces between the spheres are rarefactions of the air molecules. Sound waves are thus a series of compressions and expansions in the medium through which they travel.

The technical name for one expansion and one compression of the medium, passing through a fixed point, is a cycle. Thus, a vibration rate of 50 cycles per second produces 50 expansions and 50 compressions each second at a given point. The term frequency designates the number of cycles per unit of time that a sound wave vibrates. One cycle per second is called a hertz and is abbreviated Hz. Other useful units of scale in ultrasonics are kilohertz (kHz), 1,000 Hz; and megahertz (MHz), meaning 1,000,000 Hz or 1,000 kHz.

Most people can only hear frequencies of sound that fall between about 16 and 16,000 Hz. Ultrasonics is concerned with sound waves with frequencies greater than the human hearing range. Some insects can produce ultrasound with frequencies as high as 40 kHz. Small animals such as cats and dogs hear frequencies of up to 30 kHz, and bats are known to detect frequencies of up to 100 kHz. Sound waves of several megahertz frequency are common in various technological applications such as medical imaging.

A sound wave that causes compressions and expansions of the molecules in the medium surrounding it as it propagates is called a longitudinal wave. The distance from one compression to the next is known as the wavelength of the sound wave. Sound waves with long wavelengths pass over small objects in much the same way that ocean waves pass over small objects. Sound waves with short wavelengths, on the other hand, tend to be diffracted or scattered by objects comparable to them in size.

The propagation velocity of a sound wave is obtained by multiplying the frequency of the sound wave by its wavelength. Thus, if the wavelength and frequency of the sound wave in a given medium are known, its velocity can also be calculated. The sound velocities in a variety of materials are shown in Table 1.

Since ultrasonic waves have high frequencies, they have short wavelengths. As a result, ultrasonic waves can be focused in narrow, straight beams.

How ultrasonic waves are generated

In order to duplicate ultrasonic frequencies, humans have harnessed the electrical properties of materials. When a specially cut piezoelectric quartz crystal is compressed, the crystal becomes electrically charged and an electric current is generated: the greater the pressure, the greater the electric current. If the crystal is suddenly stretched rather than being

Table 1. Velocity of Sound in Various Media . (Thomson Gale.)
Velocity of sound in various media(a)
Material Velocity (ft/sec)
(a) All measurements at room temperature (77°F [25°C]) unless otherwise indicated.
Sea water5023
Distilled water4908
Chloroform3237
Dry air at 0°C1086
Hydrogen at 0°C4212
Brick11,972
Clay rock11,414
Cork640
Paraffin4264
Tallow1279
Polystyrene3018
Fused silica18,893
Aluminum16,400
Gold6658
Silver8790
Concrete12,000
Stainless steel16,400

compressed, the direction of the current will reverse itself. Alternately compressing and stretching the crystal has the effect of producing an alternating current. It follows that by applying an alternating current that matches the natural frequency of the crystal, the crystal can be made to expand and contract with the alternating current. When such a current is applied to the crystal, ultrasonic waves are produced.

Depending on which way the crystal is cut, the waves can be focused along the direction of ultrasound propagation or at right angles to the direction of propagation. Waves that travel along the direction of propagation are called longitudinal waves; as noted above, these waves travel in the direction in which molecules in the surrounding medium move back and forth. Waves that travel at right angles to the propagation direction are called transverse waves; the molecules in the surrounding medium move up and down with respect to the direction that the waves propagate. Ultrasound waves can also propagate as surface waves; in this case, molecules in the surrounding medium experience up-and-down motion as well as expanding and contracting motion.

In most applications, ultrasonic waves are generated by a transducer that includes a piezoelectric crystal that converts electrical energy (electric current) to mechanical energy (sound waves). These sound waves

are reflected and return to the transducer as echoes and are converted back to electrical signals by the same transducer or by a separate one. Alternately, one can generate ultrasonic waves by means of magnetostriction (from magneto, meaning magnetic, and strictio, meaning drawing together.) In this case an iron or nickel element is magnetized to change its dimensions, thereby producing ultrasonic waves. Ultrasound may also be produced by a whistle or siren-type generator. In this method, gas or liquid streams are passed through a resonant cavity or reflector with the result that ultrasonic vibrations characteristic of the particular gas or liquid are produced.

Applications

the number of applications for ultrasound seems to be limited only by the human imagination. There are literally dozens of ways that people have already found to make use of ultrasound.

Coagulation

ultrasound has been used to bind, or coagulate, solid or liquid particles that are present in dust, mist, or smoke into larger clumps. The technique is used in a process called ultrasonic scrubbing, by which particulate matter is coagulated in smokestacks before it pollutes the atmosphere. Coagulation has also been used at airports to disperse fog and mist.

Humidification

in ultrasonic humidification, water is reduced to a fine spray by means of ultrasonic vibrations. The water droplets are propelled into a chamber where they are mixed with air, and a mist of air and water leaves the humidifier and enters the room to be humidified.

Ultrasonic dispersion

Two liquids that do not ordinarily mix, i.e., oil and water, can be combined as a liquid by exposing a solution of the two to very high frequency sound waves. Such mixtures are called dispersions. With this technique, alloys of aluminum and lead, iron and lead, and aluminum and cadmium can be mixed as liquidsand kept mixeduntil they solidify. This technique is known as ultrasonic dispersion. It is also used to produce stable and consistent photographic emulsions.

Milk homogenization and pasteurization

Ultrasonic waves can be used to break up fat globules in milk, so that the fat mixes with the milk (homogenization). In addition, pasteurization, the removal of harmful bacteria and microorganisms, is sometimes done ultrasonically.

Ultrasonic cleaning

Ultrasound is routinely used to clean, process, and degrease metal parts, precision machinery, and fabrics. The technique has found heavy use in the automotive, aircraft, and electronics industries, as well as for cleaning optical, dental, surgical, and other precision instruments. Fabrics can be laundered using ultrasound because the ultrasonic vibrations break down the attraction between dirt particles and fabrics, literally shaking the dirt loose. The principle by which ultrasonic cleaning is accomplished is known as cavitation. In cavitation, ultrasonic waves produce microscopic bubbles that collapse, sending out many tiny shock waves. These shock waves loosen the dirt and other contaminants on metals, plastics, or ceramics. The frequencies used in ultrasonic cleaning range from 15 kHz to 2 MHz.

Welding

intense ultrasonic vibrations can be used to locally heat and weld two materials together. This technique works well with both plastics and metals. Thus, metal wire leads can be connected to semiconductor devices, or thermoplastic films sealed using ultrasound to locally heat, melt, and fuse the materials surfaces. When used to bond metals to plastics, ultrasonic waves create an even flow of molten plastic at the point of contact. When the liquid plastic solidifies, cohesive bonding takes place.

Drilling

by attaching an ultrasonic impact grinder to a magnetostrictive transducer and using an abrasive liquid, holes of practically any shape can be drilled in hard, brittle materials such as tungsten carbide or precious stones. The actual cutting or drilling is done by feeding an abrasive material, frequently silicon carbide or aluminum oxide, to the cutting area.

Soldering

in ultrasonic soldering, high frequency vibrations are used to produce microscopic bubbles in molten solder. This process removes the metal oxides from the joint or surface to be soldered, and eliminates the need for flux.

Nondestructive testing

When used as flaw detectors, ultrasonic devices locate defects in materials and bounce back images of the defects, thus revealing their shapes and locations. Nondestructive testing neither damages the object being tested, nor harms the person performing the test. Metals, glasses, ceramics, liquids, plastics, and rubbers can be evaluated by this technique. Nondestructive testing of forged parts is now a standard manufacturing practice. The technique is used to detect corrosion in metal parts. It is also used to measure the thickness of many materials (with accuracy of up to 0.0001 in [0.00025 cm] for metals, and 0.001 in [0.0025 cm] for plastics), including concrete structures. Farmers have even used ultrasound to measure the fat layers on their cattle prior to sending them to market.

Scientific research

Ultrasound has been used to investigate the physical properties of materials, to determine the molecular weights of liquid polymers, to investigate the associated states of water, and to induce and speed up chemical reactions. Ultrasound has also been used to break up high molecular weight polymers, thereby making possible the creation of new plastic materials. Agricultural research indicates that seeds have been found to germinate more rapidly and to give higher yields after they have been subjected to ultrasound.

Medicine

perhaps in no other field has there been such an explosion of ultrasound applications as in medicine. Ultrasound has been used in the following applications:

(1) Photograph body organs and bones. Body parts as small as 0.004 in (0.1 mm) may be imaged using ultrasound. Heart examinations may be performed to locate tumors, valve diseases, and accumulation of fluids. Pregnancies may be detected as early as five weeks after conception, and fetal size and development is monitored throughout pregnancy and delivery using ultrasonic imaging.

(2) Measure the rate and direction of blood flow using the principle that the frequency of sound increases if its source travels toward an observer, but decreases if it moves away. This is true even when the source is an object producing an echo. This phenomenon, known as the Doppler effect, accounts for why the pitch of a train whistle, for example, becomes higher as a train first approaches, and then becomes lower as it passes people standing on a station platform. Doctors can determine the direction of blood flow in the body by observing increases or decreases in the frequency of ultrasound reflected from the moving blood cells.

(3) Detect tumors in the body and to distinguish between malignant tumors and healthy tissue. Ultrasound is also employed by oncologists to destroy malignant tumors and inclusions, eliminating the need for surgery. Cancer cells are destroyed using ultra-sound to produce microscopic bubbles that collapse and send out intense shock waves (cavitation effect). The same technique is used to destroy gallstones and kidney stones.

(4) View living cells without damaging them. Ultrasonic microscopes can be used to image cellular structures to within 0.2 microns (two-thousandths of a millimeter). Ultrasonic methods are also used to locate foreign objects in the eye during surgery and in routine eye examinations, to measure the depth of burns in burn patients, to examine breast lumps and other parts of the body, and to making moving pictures of the beating heart. This technique affords an accuracy of 0.050.1 in (0.10.2 mm).

(5) Relieve muscle strain. Ultrasonic heat has been used to treat arthritis, bursitis, myelitis, neuralgia, malignancy, lumbago, rheumatism, arthritis, sciatica, sinitis, and post-operative pain.

(6) Clean teeth by means of ultrasonic prophylaxis units operating at 25 kHz.

Electronic eavesdropping

Conversations can be overheard without using microphones by directing ultrasonic waves at the window of the room being monitored. Sounds in the room cause the window to vibrate; the speech vibrations produce characteristic changes in the ultrasonic waves that are reflected back into the monitor. A transducer can be used to convert the reflected vibrations to electrical signals that can be reconstructed as audible sounds.

Detection devices

Ultrasound has been used to detect undersea naval vessels, to measure the depth of the ocean floor, and to locate schools of fish. When used in these ways, ultrasound is usually referred to as sonar, an acronym for SOund NAvigation and Ranging. The frequencies used in most sonar systems range from 5 to 50 kHz. Ultrasonic detectors also measure chemical fluid levels automatically in tanks and containers, as

KEY TERMS

Cycle One wave expansion and compression.

Hertz A unit of measurement for frequency, abbreviated Hz. One hertz is one cycle per second.

Kilohertz (kHz) One thousand hertz.

Megahertz (MHz) One thousand kilohertz.

Piezoelectric A material that becomes electrically charged when compressed, generating an electric current.

Transducer An electronic device used to generate ultrasound.

Ultrasound Another term for ultrasonic waves; sometimes reserved for medical applications.

Wavelength The distance between two consecutive crests or troughs in a wave.

well as in the fuel tanks of aircraft. In addition, ultrasonic devices are used in burglar alarms. When an intruder trips an ultrasonic alarm, a signal can be relayed to the local police station, and the burglar apprehended.

Radio

Radio talk shows routinely use ultrasonic delay lines to monitor and cut off abusive callers before their comments are aired during radio talk shows. The ultrasonic delay line bounces the voice signal back and forth between two transducers until it has been monitored, then releases it for broadcast.

See also Acoustics; Solder and soldering iron.

Resources

BOOKS

Ensminger, Dale and Leonard Bond. Ultrasonics. Boca Raton, FL: CRC, 2007.

Raj, Baldev, et al. Science and Technology of Ultrasonics. Harrow, UK: Alpha Science International, 2004.

Randall Frost

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Ultrasonics

Ultrasonics

Ultrasonics or ultrasound, derived from the Latin words "ultra," meaning beyond, and "sonic," meaning sound, is a term used to describe sound waves that vibrate more rapidly than the human ear can detect.

Sound waves travel as concentric hollow spheres. The surfaces of the spheres are compressed air molecules, and the spaces between the spheres are expansions of the air molecules through which the sound waves travel. Sound waves are thus a series of compressions and expansions in the medium surrounding them. Although we are used to thinking of sound waves as traveling through air, they may also propagate through other media.

The technical name for one expansion and one compression is a cycle. Thus, a vibration rate of 50 cycles per second produces 50 expansions and 50 compressions each second. The term frequency designates the number of cycles per unit of time that a sound wave vibrates. One cycle per second is called a hertz and is abbreviated Hz. Other useful units of scale in ultrasonics are kilohertz (kHz), which represents 1,000 Hz; and megahertz (MHz), representing 1,000,000 Hz or 1,000 kHz.

Most people can only detect frequencies of sound that fall between 16 and 16,000 Hz. Ultrasonics has come to describe sound waves with frequencies greater than 16,000 Hz, or 16 kHz. Some insects can produce ultrasound with frequencies as high as 40 kHz. Small animals

TABLE 1. VELOCITY OF SOUND IN VARIOUS MEDIA
Material Velocity (ft/sec)
aAll measurements at 25°C (room temperature) unless otherwise indicated.
Sea water 5023
Distilled water 4908
Chloroform 3237
Dry air at 0°C 1086
Hydrogen at 0°C 4212
Brick 11,972
Clay rock 11,414
Cork 1640
Paraffin 4264
Tallow 1279
Polystyrene 3018
Fused silica 18,893
Aluminum 16,400
Gold 6658
Silver 8790
Concrete 12,000
Stainless steel 16,400



such as cats and dogs hear frequencies of up to 30 kHz; and bats are known to detect frequencies of up to 100 kHz.

A sound wave that causes compressions and expansions of the molecules in the medium surrounding it as it propagates is called a longitudinal wave. The distance from one compression to the next is known as the wavelength of the sound wave. Sound waves with long wavelengths pass over small objects in much the same way that ocean waves pass over small objects. Sound waves with short wavelengths, on the other hand, tend to be diffracted or scattered by objects comparable to them in size.

The propagation velocity of a sound wave is obtained by multiplying the frequency of the sound wave by its wavelength. Thus, if the wavelength and frequency of the sound wave in a given medium are known, its velocity can also be calculated. The sound velocities in a variety of materials are shown in Table 1.

As ultrasonic waves tend to have very high frequencies, it follows that they also have very short wavelengths. As a result, ultrasonic waves can be focused in narrow, straight beams.


How ultrasonic waves are generated

In order to duplicate ultrasonic frequencies, humans have harnessed the electrical properties of materials. When a specially cut piezoelectric quartz crystal is compressed, the crystal becomes electrically charged and an electric current is generated: the greater the pressure , the greater the electric current. If the crystal is suddenly stretched rather than being compressed, the direction of the current will reverse itself. Alternately compressing and stretching the crystal has the effect of producing an alternating current. It follows that by applying an alternating current that matches the natural frequency of the crystal, the crystal can be made to expand and contract with the alternating current. When such a current is applied to the crystal, ultrasonic waves are produced.

Depending on which way the crystal is cut, the waves can be focused along the direction of ultrasound propagation or at right angles to the direction of propagation. Waves that travel along the direction of propagation are called longitudinal waves; as noted above, these waves travel in the direction in which molecules in the surrounding medium move back and forth. Waves that travel at right angles to the propagation direction are called transverse waves; the molecules in the surrounding medium move up and down with respect to the direction that the waves propagate. Ultrasound waves can also propagate as surface waves; in this case, molecules in the surrounding medium experience up-and-down motion as well as expanding and contracting motion.

In most applications, ultrasonic waves are generated by a transducer that includes a piezoelectric crystal that converts electrical energy (electric current) to mechanical energy (sound waves). These sound waves are reflected and return to the transducer as echoes and are converted back to electrical signals by the same transducer or by a separate one. Alternately, one can generate ultrasonic waves by means of magnetostriction (from magneto, meaning magnetic, and strictio, meaning drawing together.) In this case an iron or nickel element is magnetized to change its dimensions, thereby producing ultrasonic waves. Ultrasound may also be produced by a whistle or siren-type generator . In this method, gas or liquid streams are passed through a resonant cavity or reflector with the result that ultrasonic vibrations characteristic of the particular gas or liquid are produced.


Applications

The number of applications for ultrasound seems to be limited only by the human imagination. There are literally dozens of ways that people have already found to make use of ultrasound.


Coagulation

Ultrasound has been used to bind, or coagulate, solid or liquid particles that are present in dust, mist, or smoke into larger clumps. The technique is used in a process called ultrasonic scrubbing, by which particulate matter is coagulated in smokestacks before it pollutes the atmosphere. Coagulation has also been used at airports to disperse fog and mist.


Humidification

In ultrasonic humidification, water is reduced to a fine spray by means of ultrasonic vibrations. The water droplets are propelled into a chamber where they are mixed with air, and a mist of air and water leaves the humidifier and enters the room to be humidified.


Ultrasonic dispersion

Two liquids that do not ordinarily mix, i.e., oil and water, can be combined as a liquid by exposing a solution of the two to very high frequency sound waves. Such mixtures are called dispersions. With this technique, alloys of aluminum and lead , iron and lead, and aluminum and cadmium can be mixed as liquids—and kept mixed—until they solidify. This technique is known as ultrasonic dispersion. It is also used to produce stable and consistent photographic emulsions.


Milk homogenization and pasteurization

Ultrasonic waves can be used to break up fat globules in milk, so that the fat mixes with the milk (homogenization). In addition, pasteurization, the removal of harmful bacteria and microorganisms , is sometimes done ultrasonically.

Ultrasonic cleaning

Ultrasound is routinely used to clean, process, and degrease metal parts, precision machinery, and fabrics. The technique has found heavy use in the automotive, aircraft , and electronics industries, as well as for cleaning optical, dental, surgical, and other precision instruments. Fabrics can be laundered using ultrasound because the ultrasonic vibrations break down the attraction between dirt particles and fabrics, literally shaking the dirt loose. The principle by which ultrasonic cleaning is accomplished is known as cavitation. In cavitation, ultrasonic waves produce microscopic bubbles that collapse, sending out many tiny shock waves. These shock waves loosen the dirt and other contaminants on metals, plastics , or ceramics . The frequencies used in ultrasonic cleaning range from 15 kHz to 2 MHz.


Welding

Intense ultrasonic vibrations can be used to locally heat and weld two materials together. This technique works well with both plastics and metals. Thus, metal wire leads can be connected to semiconductor devices, or thermoplastic films sealed using ultrasound to locally heat, melt, and fuse the materials' surfaces. When used to bond metals to plastics, ultrasonic waves create an even flow of molten plastic at the point of contact. When the liquid plastic solidifies, cohesive bonding takes place.


Drilling

By attaching an ultrasonic impact grinder to a magnetostrictive transducer and using an abrasive liquid, holes of practically any shape can be drilled in hard, brittle materials such as tungsten carbide or precious stones. The actual cutting or drilling is done by feeding an abrasive material, frequently silicon carbide or aluminum oxide, to the cutting area.


Soldering

In ultrasonic soldering, high frequency vibrations are used to produce microscopic bubbles in molten solder. This process removes the metal oxides from the joint or surface to be soldered, and eliminates the need for flux.


Nondestructive testing

When used as flaw detectors, ultrasonic devices locate defects in materials and bounce back images of the defects, thus revealing their shapes and locations. Nondestructive testing neither damages the object being tested, nor harms the person performing the test. Metals, glasses, ceramics, liquids, plastics, and rubbers can be evaluated by this technique. Nondestructive testing of forged parts is now a standard manufacturing practice. The technique is used to detect corrosion in metal parts. It is also used to measure the thickness of many materials (with accuracy of up to 0.0001 in [0.00025 cm] for metals, and 0.001 in [0.0025 cm] for plastics), including concrete structures. Farmers have even used ultrasound to measure the fat layers on their cattle prior to sending them to market.


Scientific research

Ultrasound has been used to investigate the physical properties of materials, to determine the molecular weights of liquid polymers, to investigate the associated states of water, and to induce and speed up chemical reactions . Ultrasound has also been used to break up high molecular weight polymers, thereby making possible the creation of new plastic materials. Agricultural research indicates that seeds have been found to germinate more rapidly and to give higher yields after they have been subjected to ultrasound.


Medicine

Perhaps in no other field has there been such an explosion of ultrasound applications as in medicine. Ultrasound has been used in the following applications:

  1. to photograph body organs and bones. Body parts as small as 0.004 in (0.1 mm) may be imaged using ultrasound. Heart examinations may be performed to locate tumors, valve diseases, and accumulation of fluids. Pregnancies may be detected as early as five weeks after conception, and fetal size and development is monitored throughout pregnancy and delivery using ultrasonic imaging.
  2. to measure the rate and direction of blood flow using the principle that the frequency of sound changes as it travels toward an observer, but decreases as it moves away. This phenomenon, known as the Doppler effect , accounts for why the pitch of a train whistle, for example, becomes higher as a train first approaches, then becomes lower as it passes people standing on a station platform. Doctors can determine the direction of blood flow in the body by observing increases or decreases in the frequency of the ultrasonic measurements.
  3. to detect tumors in the body and to distinguish between malignant tumors and healthy tissue . Ultrasound is also employed by oncologists to destroy malignant tumors and inclusions, eliminating the need for surgery . Cancer cells are destroyed using ultrasound to produce microscopic bubbles that collapse and send out intense shock waves (cavitation effect). The same technique is used to destroy gallstones and kidney stones.
  4. to view living cells without damaging them. Ultrasonic microscopes can be used to image cellular structures to within 0.2 microns (two-thousandths of a millimeter). Ultrasonic methods are also used to locate foreign objects in the eye during surgery and in routine eye examinations, and to measure the depth of burns in burn patients. This technique affords an accuracy of 0.05-0.1 in (0.1-0.2 mm).
  5. to relieve muscle strain. Ultrasonic heat has been used to treat arthritis , bursitis, myelitis, neuralgia, malignancy, lumbago, rheumatism, arthritis, sciatica, sinitis, and post-operative pain .
  6. to clean teeth by means of ultrasonic prophylaxis units operating at 25 kHz.

Electronic eavesdropping

Conversations can be overheard without using microphones by directing ultrasonic waves at the window of the room being monitored. Sounds in the room cause the window to vibrate; the speech vibrations produce characteristic changes in the ultrasonic waves that are reflected back into the monitor. A transducer can be used to convert the reflected vibrations to electrical signals that can be reconstructed as audible sounds.


Detection devices

Ultrasound has been used to detect undersea naval vessels, to measure the depth of the ocean floor, and to locate schools of fish . When used in these ways, ultrasound is usually referred to as sonar, an acronym for SOund NAvigation and Ranging. The frequencies used in most sonar systems range from 5 to 50 kHz. Ultrasonic detectors also measure chemical fluid levels automatically in tanks and containers, as well as in the fuel tanks of aircraft. In addition, ultrasonic devices are used in burglar alarms. When an intruder trips an ultrasonic alarm, a signal can be relayed to the local police station, and the burglar apprehended.


Radio

Radio talk shows routinely use ultrasonic delay lines to monitor and cut off abusive callers before their comments are aired during radio talk shows. The ultrasonic delay line bounces the voice signal back and forth between two transducers until it has been monitored, then releases it for broadcast.

See also Acoustics; Solder and soldering iron.


Resources

books

Knight, David C. Silent Sound: The World of Ultrasonics. New York: Morrow, 1980.


Randall Frost

KEY TERMS

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Cycle

—One wave expansion and compression.

Hertz

—A unit of measurement for frequency, abbreviated Hz. One hertz is one cycle per second.

Kilohertz (kHz)

—One thousand hertz.

Megahertz (MHz)

—One thousand kilohertz.

Piezoelectric

—A material that becomes electrically charged when compressed, generating an electric current.

Transducer

—An electronic device used to generate ultrasound.

Ultrasound

—Another term for ultrasonic waves; sometimes reserved for medical applications.

Wavelength

—The distance between two consecutive crests or troughs in a wave.

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