Digging Into Acoustic Levitation

Foam balls levitating in an acoustic standing wave sit at or just below pressure nodes.

Acoustic levitation is a fascinating phenomenon in which small objects, like the Styrofoam balls seen here, are levitated by a standing acoustic wave. In this image, a color schlieren system shows regions of increasing pressure with height (red) and decreasing pressure with height (green). The balls sit within the colored bands, indicating that they’re levitated near the standing wave’s pressure nodes.

Interestingly, a basic (linear) analysis of the acoustics indicates that the balls should levitate at the pressure anti-nodes, but this clearly isn’t the case in reality. As the authors show, understanding acoustic levitation requires a nonlinear analysis, which reveals the acoustic radiation pressure as the force responsible for holding the balls in place near the nodes. Check out their paper for the full analysis! (Image and research credit: D. Jackson and M. Chang; via Physics Today)

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