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From seas to surgeries, from babbling brooks to baby scans: the acoustics of gas bubbles in liquids

By T.G. Leighton


Gas bubbles are the most potent naturally-occurring entities that influence the acoustic environment in liquids. Upon entrainment under breaking waves, waterfalls, or rainfall over water, each bubble undergoes small amplitude decaying pulsations with a natural frequency that varies approximately inversely with the bubble radius, giving rise to the "plink" of a dripping tap or the roar of a cataract. When they occur in their millions per cubic metre in the top few metres of the ocean, bubbles can dominate the underwater sound field. Similarly, when driven by an incident sound field, bubbles exhibit a strong pulsation resonance. Acoustic scatter by bubbles can confound sonar in the shallow waters which typify many modern maritime military operations. If they are driven by sound fields of sufficient amplitude, the bubble pulsations can become highly nonlinear. These nonlinearities might be exploited to enhance sonar, or to monitor the bubble population. Such oceanic monitoring is important, for example, because of the significant contribution made by bubbles to the greenhouse gas budget. In industry, bubble monitoring is required for sparging, electrochemical processes, the production of paints, pharamaceuticals and foodstuffs. At yet higher amplitudes of pulsation, gas compression within the collapsing bubble can generate temperatures of several thousand Kelvin whilst, in the liquid, shock waves and shear can produce erosion and bioeffects. Not only can these effects be exploited in industrial cleaning and manufacturing, and research into novel chemical processes, but we need to understand (and if possible control) their occurrence when biomedical ultrasound is passed through the body. This is because the potential of such bubble-related physical and chemical processes to damage tissue will be desireable in some circumstances (e.g. ultrasonic kidney stone therapy), and undesireable in others (e.g. foetal scanning). This paper describes this range of behaviour. Further information on these topics, including sound and video files, can be found at

Topics: R1, TA, GC
Year: 2004
OAI identifier:
Provided by: e-Prints Soton
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