Letters to Nature

Nature 418, 394-397 (25 July 2002) | doi:10.1038/nature00895; Received 1 March 2002; Accepted 29 May 2002

The energy efficiency of formation of photons, radicals and ions during single-bubble cavitation

Yuri T. Didenko & Kenneth S. Suslick

  1. Department of Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois 61801, USA

Correspondence to: Kenneth S. Suslick Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to K.S.S. (e-mail: Email: ksuslick@uiuc.edu).

It is extremely difficult to perform a quantitative analysis of the chemistry1, 2 associated with multibubble cavitation: unknown parameters include the number of active bubbles, the acoustic pressure acting on each bubble and the bubble size distribution. Single-bubble sonoluminescence3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (characterized by the emission of picosecond flashes of light) results from nonlinear pulsations of an isolated vapour-gas bubble in an acoustic field. Although the latter offers a much simpler environment in which to study the chemical activity of cavitation, quantitative measurements have been hindered by the tiny amount of reacting gas within a single bubble (typically <10-13 mol). Here we demonstrate the existence of chemical reactions within a single cavitating bubble, and quantify the sources of energy dissipation during bubble collapse. We measure the yields of nitrite ions, hydroxyl radicals and photons. The energy efficiency of hydroxyl radical formation is comparable to that in multibubble cavitation, but the energy efficiency of light emission is much higher. The observed rate of nitrite formation is in good agreement with the calculated diffusion rate of nitrogen into the bubble. We note that the temperatures attained in single-bubble cavitation in liquids with significant vapour pressures will be substantially limited by the endothermic chemical reactions of the polyatomic species inside the collapsing bubble.