Inside Cavitation

Cavitation bubbles live a short and violent life. It begins when a low-pressure void forms in a fluid–for example, when a liquid is accelerated so that the pressure drops below the vapor pressure, which can happen at the tips of a boat’s propeller or when striking a bottle. The bubbles that form expand and then collapse rapidly as the higher pressure of the liquid surrounding them squeezes them down. That collapse of the bubble is so violent that it heats the fluid inside the bubble to temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun, generating both a flash of light and a shock wave. It’s these shock waves that cause much of the damage associated with cavitation in engineering, but they can be used for good as well. Shock wave lithotripsy uses cavitation-induced shock waves to break down kidney stones. (Image credit: O. Supponen et al., source)

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