Wednesday, March 16, 2005

A Mass Of Incandescent Gas

Usually Nick would be the one touting science news, but since he's busy with exams and papers, I figured I might as well.

A recent University of Illinois experiement (reported in the New York Times) has made a startling (to me, at least) discovery on the topic of fusion. The scientists took a jar of sulfuric acid and passed sound waves of over 18,000 cycles/second through it. The vibrations cause bubbles to form and then implode, over and over again. The startling part is that the surface of the bubbles reach temperatures of 25,000 degrees farenheit -- more than twice as hot as the surface of the sun -- and scientists say the center of the bubble could be even hotter. Other recent experiments on the same topic found that the reaction fused hydrogen atoms into helium, the same fusion that occurs in our sun.

Sonoluminescence -- the phenomenon of imploding soundwave-induced bubbles, so named due to the flash of light emitted when the bubble collapses -- was first discovered in 1934, but not thought to be much use. More recent experiments have found ways to increase the intensity of the reaction, such as using liquids with lower vapor pressure, and adding small amounts of noble gasses. Still, the amount of power to be gained by sonoluminescence is minimal, due the the tiny size of the bubble. But while the scientists are uncertain about the applications of their discovery, they speculate that it could be developed into a practical energy source in the future.

And all I have running through my head is Doctor Octavius proclaiming truimphantly: "The power of the Sun, in the palm of my hand."


At 10:21 PM, Blogger Nick said...

I believe that scientists two to three years ago touted more direct evidence that sonoluminescence could produce nuclear fusion reactions, but this was discounted when it became apparent that their experiment was not reproducible. The possibility of fusion through cavitation is certainly a fascinating one, and these experiments sound like a step in the right direction. It should be pointed out though that the temperatures needed for the easiest fusion reaction (hydrogen-deuterium) are measured not in the tens of thousands but in the low millions of degrees Fahrenheit. The thresholds for more complex reactions like the triple alpha chain are higher still, in the tens of millions, and I believe that elements as heavy as sulfur can't burn directly below about a billion degrees. So there's a ways to go - but here's one to cautious optimism.

At 12:36 AM, Anonymous Sanford said...

As with any other discovery, only time will tell, but though my interest in science is minimal, I would have to say the thought of such temperatures is intriguing.


Post a Comment

<< Home