What is Sonication and How Does it Work?

What is Sonication?

Sonication uses sound waves to agitate particles in a given solution. In addition, it converts an electrical signal into physical vibration that can break substances apart. Therefore these disruptions can mix solutions, accelerate the dissolution of a solid into a liquid.

In DNA testing, sonication breaks the molecules and ruptures cells and hence releasing proteins for testing. In this article, we will learn about sonication and its working.



Sonication is the process of using energy to move particles around in a solution given. Typically, we do it for the purpose of cleaning or separating different substances. Sonication sends ultrasonic frequencies into a solution or a sample, for example when cleaning jewelry and removes dirt and debris.

Beyond speaking and communicating our thoughts, sound can also become an important tool to shape and understand the world around us through these processes.

In the science laboratory, we mainly use it as a method of cell disruption. Sonication is used to disrupt cellular membranes and as a result, release the contents of the cell. This process is generally referred to as sonoporation.

In the lab, they carry it out during the preparation of protein extracts in order to break the cell apart. Sonication can also be used to fragment DNA, and preventing it from interfering with further sample preparation. Moreover, its other biological uses include the production of nanoparticles, liposomes, extraction of anthocyanins and antioxidants.

Sound Waves

Sound is a wave which has alternating high and low pressure. The frequency of a sound wave is defined as how often the particles of a substance vibrate when the sound wave passes through it. It uses ultrasound waves with frequencies of 20 kHz i.e. 20,000 cycles per second or higher.

These frequencies are above what a human can hear. But we still recommend ear protection during the sonication process as it creates a loud screeching noise. Also, the greater the frequency, the stronger the agitation of particles.

Sonicator Parts

A sonicator is a powerful piece of lab equipment with an ultrasonic electric generator which creates a signal to power a transducer. This transducer converts the electric signal using piezoelectric crystals i.e. the crystals that respond directly to electricity by creating a mechanical vibration.

The sonicator preserves and also amplifies the vibration until it passes to the probe. The sonicator operator can easily control amplitude based on the properties of the solution. A small probe tip produces a much intense reaction than a large probe tip. On the other hand, a large tip reaches more of the solution.

How does Sonication Work?

This process uses ultrasonic sound waves. During the sonication process cycles of pressure form, thousands of microscopic vacuum bubbles in the solution. These bubbles collapse into the solution in the process of cavitation.

This causes powerful waves of vibration which release an enormous energy force in the cavitation field. This disrupts molecular interactions such as interactions between molecules of water. Hence it separates clumps of particles and facilitates the mixing.

For example, in dissolved gas vibrations, bubbles due to the gas come together and more easily leave the solution.

The energy from the sound waves creates friction in the solution, which as a result creates heat. To stop a sample from heating up and degrading, keep it on the ice before, during as well as after the sonication.

If the cells and proteins are too fragile to withstand sonication, a gentler alternative is enzyme digestion or grinding with sand.

Solved Question for You

Q. What are the various uses of Sonication?

Ans: Some of the uses are as follows:

  1. For ultrasonic cleaning
  2. During the Cell Lysis process i.e. breakdown of DNA.
  3. Cleaning Food Industry
  4. During the process of Buzz Pollination
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