Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: ultrasonics from Philip's Encyclopedia

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.

Summary Article: ultrasonics
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

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.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

Related Articles

Full text Article hearing
The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Ability to perceive sounds. In humans, the organ of hearing is the ear. Humans are unable to hear sounds that have frequencies below 20 Hz or above 2

Full text Article ultrasound
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

pronunciation (1923) 1 : vibrations of the same physical nature as sound but with frequencies above the range of human hearing 2 : the diagnostic or

Full text Article ultrasonic1
The Penguin English Dictionary

/ultrəsonik/ adj 1 said of waves and vibrations: having a frequency above the range of the human ear, e.g. above about 20,000Hz. ...

See more from Credo