Bathing in Sound

In researching how sound affects the human microbiome, I decided it would be beneficial to talk to someone who might have an idea about how that works on a molecular level, so I spoke with a computational chemist, Dr. Leach. After I described to him a bit about my research, he told me about some chemistry laboratory equipment I’d never heard of: an ultrasound bath. Essentially, and ultrasound bath is a sort of chemical dishwasher. It’s a metal vessel with a bit of water through which it sends ultrasound vibrations (high-frequency sound waves). Apparently, these vibrations can shift tough stains and residue that are too stubborn to be cleaned by normal washing. Aside from cleaning, an ultrasound bath can also be used to speed up certain chemical reactions. According to Dr. Leach, the sound frequency causes bubbles to form and implode, both containing and releasing high pressure (at least, that is my rudimentary understanding – I am not well-verses in the subject matter).

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Ultrasound bath (photo taken by myself)

I had read an article recently that mentioned studying how microwave radiation influences bacterial infection severity, and I asked if he knows anything about that. Microwave radiation, to the best of my knowledge, is basically making molecules spin. There remains a good deal of debate over whether it does anything besides heat things up in a very localized way. He said ultrasound is something like that. Does it do anything besides apply pressure in a localized way? We aren’t sure, but as far as Dr. Leach knows it does not have any negative impact on human health.

Could ultrasound exposure be used to modulate gut health? The closest I could find to research on this topic is this article about the use of ultrasound on the spleen to treat inflammatory arthritis. It has to do with the vagus nerve to spleen circuit, and I know the vagus nerve is critical to the gut-brain connection. If it does influence gut health, would it be because the sound waves are affecting the microbiome, or the human? Or both? If you know of any research on this topic, or have any insights, please comment below.

Also, if you are like me and were wondering what other unexpected uses there may be for ultrasound, check out Nature.com

 

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