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A simple explanation of light emission in sonoluminescence


Ultrasonically driven gas bubbles in liquids can emit intense bursts of light when they collapse1. The physical mechanism for single-bubble sonoluminescence has been much debated2,3. The conditions required for, and generated by, bubble collapse can be deduced within the framework of a hydrodynamic (Rayleigh–Plesset4) analysis of bubble dynamics and stability5,6, and by considering the dissociation and outward diffusion of gases under the extreme conditions induced by collapse7,8. We show here that by extending this hydrodynamic/chemical picture in a simple way, the light emission can be explained too. The additional elements that we add are a model for the volume dependence of the bubble's temperature9,10 and allowance for the small emissivity of a weakly ionized gas11. Despite its simplicity, our approach can account quantitatively for the observed parameter dependences of the light intensity and pulse width, as well as for the spectral shape and wavelength independence of the pulses12,13,14,15.

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Figure 1: Spectral variation of intensity and pulse width of sonoluminescence pulses from xenon and argon bubbles.
Figure 2: Size and light emission of diffusively stable argon bubbles.
Figure 3: Calculated and measured sonoluminescence pulse widths as a function of light intensity.


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We thank S. Koehler, W. Moss and H. Stone for discussions. Support by the DFG and partial support by the NSF is acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Detlef Lohse.

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Hilgenfeldt, S., Grossmann, S. & Lohse, D. A simple explanation of light emission in sonoluminescence. Nature 398, 402–405 (1999).

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