What is sonification?

Sonification is the process where you use vibrations with a frequency 
of 20 000 Hz
to transfer energy. The vibrations cause a process called cavitation in liquids. The major advantage of sonification is that you can transfer energy without heating your sample. For that reason, sonification is often used for processes that require energy input, but where transfer by heating can have undesirable side effects.

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sonicator sonics Vibra Cell

A sonicator or ultrasonic liquid processor has 3 main components: an energy source, a converter, and a probe. The energy source takes the electricity of the network (230V and 50 Hz in BeNeLux) and converts it to power with a frequency of 20 000 Hz. This means that the power goes up and down 20 000 times in 1 second. The energy source sends this power to the converter. 
The converter contains 4 piezo-electric crystals. These crystals have a very specific characteristic: each time the voltage goes up and down, the piezo-electric crystals will contract or expand. The 4 piezo-electric crystals are connected to a metal pin, called the hammer. Each time the crystals expand and contract, the hammer will hit the bottom of the converter. This means this process also takes place 20 000 times per second. 
At the bottom of the converter, the probe is screwed in. The probe is a titanium bar that has a very specific length that resonates at 20 000 Hz. Due to resonance, the bar will contract and expand 20 000 times per second. Due to this expansion and contraction, very explosive pressure changes take place in the fluid near the probe tip. These pressure changes will cause the creation and implosion of millions of very tiny bubbles. This process is called cavitation and it transfers the energy to the fluid.

What is the difference between a sonicator and an ultrasonic bath?

An ultrasonic bath has a low intensity, and the energy transfer is very slow. The energy transfer happens across the entire bath. There is no cavitation in an ultrasonic bath. Typical applications are detaching cells from filters, cleaning production equipment, …
With sonicators, there is cavitation, and the energy transfer is very large. The intensity is very focused around the tip of the probe. But due to cavitation, the movement of the fluid is enormous. That’s why the effect on the entire volume of the fluid is the same. Typical applications are cell lysing, sonochemistry, degassing, atomization, ...


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