Interdisciplinary blog

MDR Week- Blog no 1- Keynote Lecture: The Acoustic Bubble by Professor Tim Leighton

March 11, 2013
by Timothy Leighton

Join Professor Tim Leighton for the keynote Lecture: The Acoustic Bubble on Wednesday 20th March to hear how acoustic sensors can also locate reserves of gas in the seabed. An insight into this exciting and multidisciplinary research field can be found below.


Insights into ‘The Acoustic Bubble’- having fun with curiosity…. and curiosity with fun.

By Professor Tim Leighton


I am interested in the way sound travels through liquids, and liquid-like materials, such as the atmospheres of Venus and the Gas Giant planets. I am particularly interested in gas bubbles underwater, because these are the most powerful acoustical entities that occur underwater. Gas bubbles injected underwater sound notes – the smaller the bubble, the higher the note (just as a large wineglass emits a deeper note than a small wineglass when tapped with a spoon). Listening to these notes allows the measurement of bubble size. But like any object that can produce sound, bubbles vibrate sympathetically when sound of the correct pitch is projected at them: they emit notes in response, and can even implode (just as a certain voice can ‘ring’ and shatter a wine glass). An imploding bubble can damage its surroundings. This needs to be controlled as sometimes damage is desirable (as in ultrasonic tumour treatment) and sometimes it is not (e.g. during ultrasonic foetal scanning).

I was asked to talk about how we use the sounds emitted by bubbles to locate gas leaks underwater. These can be either from naturally-occurring reserves of gas in the seabed, or be leaks of gas from undersea gas pipelines, or from carbon capture and storage facilities. However, as soon as I start talking about bubbles I wander off topic and I am bound to cover such questions as ‘what does a waterfall sound like in space?’ and ‘do dolphins think nonlinearly?’

Whenever sound in liquids is an issue, bubbles become an important and difficult consideration, so to work out the implications of the fundamental bubble physics I do, I must follow through to other disciplines. This means gaining expertise in other fields myself, and working with experts: with chemists in working out how to use sound with bubbles to make cold water clean as well as hot (so saving on electricity bills); with archaeologists to look at how sonar can be used to look at wrecks buried in muddy seabeds; with oceanographers with examine the possibilities of storing atmospheric carbon in disused oil reservoirs in the seabed; with medics to work out what is the safe level of ultrasound to give a pregnant woman… that sort of thing. Providing it is fun, and rigorous, I will get into that field.

Multidisciplinary Research Week could be seen as making contacts for new funding opportunities, and these are important, but I see it primarily as having fun with curiosityand curiosity with fun.




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Categories: acoustic bubble, Blog, and multidisciplinary research. Tags: #MDRWeek, acoustic, acoustic bubble, Gas fields, multidisciplinary research, Multidisciplinary Research Week, Professor Tim Leighton, and University of Southampton.