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Sonicators are high-frequency tools (20 kHz) that use ultrasonic energy to agitate particles in liquids. These devices are employed to facilitate a wide variety of processes, such as mixing, cleaning, degassing, cell disruption, and sample preparation.
Note that when sound travels through air, solids, and liquids in the form of sound waves, sound energy is manifested as vibration, with sound waves with higher frequency causing more vibrations. Vibrations in solutions, on the other hand, lead to cavitation – or the formation of vacuum bubbles – which allows sonicators to facilitate dissolution, homogenization, milling, cell lysis, chemical reactions, degassing, deagglomeration, and cleaning.
Types of Sonication Devices
Sonication devices are indispensable in research and production settings. Note that such devices can be divided into bath sonicators and probe sonicators. Bath sonicators are ultrasonic tools that spread energy diffusely, making them invaluable for the processing of large volumes, cleaning, sterilizing, and degassing. As bath sonicators do not require a lot of power, they are more durable and affordable units. That said, bath sonicators can’t be employed for small particle sizes, and due to the uneven energy they produce, they do not support replication.
Probe sonicators, on the other hand, allow the particles around the probe to be blasted with high levels of energy, which is ideal for size reduction, cell disruption, emulsification, and dispersion of nanoparticles. Note that these devices are also called cell disruptors and ultrasonic homogenizers. Even though probe sonicators are highly sophisticated units (usually more costly than bath sonicators), we should note that erosion of the probe tip might lead to cross-contamination.
Choosing a Sonicator: Factors to Consider
Probe sonicators and ultrasonic baths are invaluable scientific tools. Choosing a sonicator, however, can be a tricky task. Prospective buyers should consider three major aspects before purchasing a new unit: requirements, specifications, and total costs.
- Total costs
Requirements: Sonicators can be used for different purposes, such as degassing, cleaning, mixing, and cell disruption. Such instruments can be employed to substitute stirring; they can also provide the energy needed to catalyze chemical reactions and promote mixing and dissolution. As sonicators can disrupt cell membranes, they can be used in enhanced drug delivery and nanoparticle dispersion in liquids. Furthermore, sonicators can be employed to break adhesion bonds and clean instruments and lab equipment. Based on the specific research goals, experts can choose between probe and bath sonicators. As explained above, bath sonicators are ideal for cleaning and degassing, while probe sonicators are suitable for cell disruption and nanoparticle dispersion. Interestingly, ultrasonic baths can be used not only by professionals but hobbyists to clean jewelry, coins, and watches.
Specifications: Given their diverse applications, it’s no surprise sonicators come in all shapes and sizes. Yet, all sonication devices are based on the phenomenon of sonication or the use of sound energy to agitate particles. Probe sonicators, for instance, are made of three parts in order to agitate particles: 1) generator that provides electronic pulses; 2) converter that transforms the pulses into mechanical vibrations; 3) probe/horn that rests in the sample and transmits the vibrations to it. Note that sonication results in heat energy; thus, if samples are too fragile to stand sonication, experts can employ other processes (e.g., enzyme digestion).
Total costs: Many factors can add to the final price of a sonicator, including the type of the unit, its parameters, and additional features (e.g., digital timer). Note that bath sonicators are significantly more affordable than probe sonicators. When it comes to probe sonicators, users should consider buying different probe tips for different volumes. To be more precise, depending on the sample volume and the size and shape of the vessel, experts can choose from different probes. A ½-inch probe, for example, can process 20-250 ml, whereas microtips can be used for tiny vessels or samples of less than 50 ml. The type of the sample (e.g., aqueous samples) also has to be considered when choosing a probe (e.g., a solid tip for solvents). Additional parts, such as a booster horn that can increase the intensity of certain probes, should also be considered.
Best Sonicators on the Market
Sonicators are invaluable tools used in research and production settings. Given the wide applications of sonication, it’s no surprise there are many different types of probe sonicators, and ultrasonic baths experts can choose from. Based on different parameters and user reviews, here are the best bath and probe sonicators on the market:
- Qsonica Q700-220 Sonicator with Touch Screen Control and Advanced Programming Features, 220V, 700W
Qsonica Q700-220 Sonicator with Touch Screen Control and Advanced Programming Features, 220V, 700W is one of the most advanced and reliable probe sonicators on the market. The unit comes with a touch-screen interface, which provides a user-friendly experience and easy-to-manage programming. Note that the applied energy is displayed in both Watts and Joules for convenience. Additionally, the unit’s internal circuitry guarantees efficient operation, sample-to-sample consistency, and reproducibility. With a power output of up to 700 Watts, a full amplitude control, and different features, this Qsonica unit is ideal for the processing of small and large samples across different settings.
- Qsonica Q55-110 Q55 Sonicator Ultrasonic Processor; 110 VAC
Qsonica Q55-110 Q55 Sonicator Ultrasonic Processor, 110 VAC is another popular ultrasonic processor manufactured by Qsonica. This ultrasonic device is ideal for various applications, such as cell disruption, emulsions, and mixing. Note that the unit runs on 55 Watts. With its compact design, this sonicator is ideal for small volume processing and busy labs with limited floor space.
- Qsonica Q500-220 Programmable Sonicator, Includes 1/2″ Probe with Replaceable Tip, 220V, 500W
Qsonica Q500-220 Programmable Sonicator, Includes 1/2″ Probe with Replaceable Tip, 220V, 500W is a powerful ultrasonic processor that is equipped with a digital display, a 500 Watt generator, and set time and amplitude for hands-free processing. Given its high-level performance and versatile features, this sonicator is ideal for numerous applications, such as cell lysis, nanoparticle dispersion, and homogenization.
- FS-1800N Ultrasonic Homogenizer/Sonicator/Processor/Disruptor/Mixer, 1800W 100-3000 ml, 110V or 220V
FS-1800N Ultrasonic Homogenizer/Sonicator/Processor/Disruptor/Mixer, 1800W, 100-3000 ml, 110V or 220V is an advanced ultrasonic unit with a novel design. Note that this sonicator comes with a large LCD display, as well as a temperature indicator and controller, in order to enhance user comfort and accurate use. From homogenization to mixing, this sonicator is ideal for various research and production settings.
- BRANSON ULTRASONICS 101-063-199 Model S-450A Sonifier – Analog Cell Disruptor with 1/2″ Tapped Horn, 400W, 230V, 50/60 Hz, 7-3/8″ W x 17-5/8″ D x 9-5/8″ H
BRANSON ULTRASONICS 101-063-199 Model S-450A Sonifier – Analog Cell Disruptor with 1/2″ Tapped Horn, 400W, 230V, 50/60 Hz, 7-3/8″ W x 17-5/8″ D x 9-5/8″ H is a versatile sonifier that comes with a range of accessories for customization. It provides quick control and access, as well as fully-automatic tuning (with stored frequency at the end of each cycle). The unit comes with a mechanical timer that can be set to continuous or timed (0-15 minutes) processing; it also has a pulsed mode to minimize heat generation and protect sensitive samples. With numerous features, this sonicator is one of the best models on the market.
- Branson 101-063-969R SFX550 Sonifier Cell Disruptor with 1/2″ Tapped Probe, 20 kHz, 550W, 120V
Branson 101-063-969R SFX550 Sonifier Cell Disruptor with 1/2″ Tapped Probe, 20 kHz, 550W, 120V is one of the most advanced sonifiers manufactured by Branson Ultrasonics which comes with advanced energy model and temperature control. Note that the unit can handle high-volume processing with up to 550 Watts of output power. Given its high quality, this sonicator is ideal for experiments of all sizes and different applications.
- CGOLDENWALL 2 in 1 Ultrasonic Homogenizer Sonicator/Processor/Lab Cell Disruptor/Mixer/Analysis of Ultrasonic Processor CE, 100-240V, 24 kHz, Integrated (800W, 100~1200 ml)
CGOLDENWALL 2 in 1 Ultrasonic/Homogenizer/Sonicator/Processor/Lab Cell Disruptor/Mixer/Analysis of Ultrasonic Processor CE, 100-240V, 24 kHz, Integrated (800W, 100~1200 ml) is a great ultrasonic homogenizer suitable for different applications. This sonicator comes with an LCD screen that can store up to 10 sets of data and various parameters, such as display time, power, frequency, and temperature. It also has LED illumination, which facilitates monitoring. The unit has a unique design, including a soundproof box, making it highly popular in research.
- Branson CPX-952-118R Series CPXH Digital Cleaning Bath with Digital Timer and Heater, 0.5 Gallons Capacity, 120V
Branson CPX-952-118R Series CPXH Digital Cleaning Bath with Digital Timer and Heater, 0.5 Gallons Capacity, 120V is a powerful digital ultrasonic bath. Note that experts can set temperatures from 20°C/68°F to 69°C/156.2°F. The unit is also equipped with programmable capabilities and self-adaptive technology. Note that all Branson ultrasonic baths can be used for different applications, such as cell separation, sample preparation, and degassing of liquids.
- VEVOR Ultrasonic Homogenizer, 2-100 ml Lab Ultrasonic Sonicator Processor, 20KHz Cell Disruptor/Mixer
VEVOR Ultrasonic Homogenizer, 2-100 ml Lab Ultrasonic Sonicator Processor, 20KHz Cell Disruptor/Mixer is a great ultrasonic processor that can process 2-100 ml volume solution at a 20 kHz frequency. Note that its pulse timer is On/Off settable (from one second to 99 minutes). Additionally, this homogenizer has an LCD display to improve user experience. With different features, this unit can be used for different applications, such as cell disruption, as well as non-biological emulsions, mixing, homogenization, cleaning, and catalytic chemical reactions.
- CO-Z 3L Professional Ultrasonic Cleaner with Digital Timer & Heater for Jewelry, Glasses, Watch, Dentures, Small Parts, Circuit Board, Dental Instrument, Industrial Commercial Ultrasound Cleaning Machine, 110V
CO-Z 3L Professional Ultrasonic Cleaner with Digital Timer & Heater for Jewelry, Glasses, Watch, Dentures, Small Parts, Circuit Board, Dental Instrument, Industrial Commercial Ultrasound Cleaning Machine, 110V is a powerful ultrasonic cleaner ideal for oxidation, extraction, cleaning, and cavitation. Note that the unit comes with pre-set cleaning time options (1-30 minutes) for convenience. Its extra-thick tank (0.04 inches) made of stainless steel (with a 0.8Gal/3L volume) and its integrated cleaning basket (9.4 x 5.3 x 3.9 inches) are perfect for different products, such as jewelry, PC boards, razors, and laboratory equipment.
Taking Care of Sonicators
Taking care of sonicators is essential to guarantee long and accurate use. Always consult your instruction manual to ensure proper setup, maintenance, and storage! Note that high fluctuations of +/- 20 Watts may indicate a problem with the unit and its setup or the sample. Foaming is another problem that may occur with small samples (of less than 1 ml). Thus, always use a probe of the appropriate size to extend its lifetime and reduce processing times.
Safety is another major factor to consider. Note that although sonication uses ultrasound waves of above 20 kHz or 20,000 cycles per second, which is above what people can hear, ear protection is still recommended (sonicators may produce scraping noises). Additionally, never touch an ultrasonic probe as it can cause burns (note that often samples are chilled before and during ultrasonic processing).
Sonicators are vital lab tools used for a wide range of applications, such as degassing, mixing, cleaning, cell disruption, and dissolution. By using sound energy, sonicators allow no-touch manipulations of different samples. Before buying a sonicator, users should consider three major factors: requirements, specifications, and total costs. Here we should note there are two types of sonicators: bath sonicators that are ideal for cleaning and degassing, and probe sonicators suitable for cell disruption and nanoparticle dispersion, with probe sonicators being more costly than ultrasonic baths. When it comes to probe sonicators, users should consider purchasing different accessories, such as booster horns and different probe tips for different volumes and sample types. Maintenance and safety are also crucial to ensure a sonicator’s long life and accurate use.
To sum up, sonication or the use of sound energy to agitate particles in solutions is one of the most powerful phenomena employed to support research and production, with probe sonicators and ultrasonic baths being invaluable scientific tools.