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Vibrational or stress waves in elastic media that have a frequency above 20 kilohertz, the highest frequency of sound waves that can be detected by the human ear. They can be generated or detected by piezoelectric transducers (seepiezoelectricity). High-power ultrasonics produce distortion in a medium; applications include ultrasonic welding, drilling, irradiation of fluid suspensions (as in wine clarification), cleaning of surfaces (such as jewelry), and disruption of biological structures. Low-power ultrasonic waves do not cause distortions; uses include sonar, structure testing, and medical imaging and diagnosis. Some animals, including bats, employ ultrasonic echolocation for navigation.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on ultrasonics, visit Britannica.com.