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A parametric array, in the field of acoustics, is a nonlinear transduction mechanism that generates narrow, nearly side lobe-free beams of low frequency sound, through the mixing and interaction of high frequency sound waves, effectively overcoming the diffraction limit (a kind of spatial 'uncertainty principle') associated with linear acoustics. The main side lobe-free beam of low frequency sound is created as a result of nonlinear mixing of two high frequency sound beams at their difference frequency. Parametric arrays can be formed in water, air, and earth materials/rock.
Priority for discovery and explanation of the parametric array owes to Peter J. Westervelt, winner of the Lord Rayleigh Medal (currently Professor Emeritus at Brown University), although important experimental work was contemporaneously underway in the former Soviet Union.
According to Muir [16, p. 554] and Albers , the concept for the parametric array occurred to Dr. Westervelt while he was stationed at the London, England, branch office of the Office of Naval Research in 1951.
According to Albers , he (Westervelt) there first observed an accidental generation of low frequency sound in air by Captain H.J. Round (British pioneer of the superheterodyne receiver) via the parametric array mechanism.
The phenomenon of the parametric array, seen first experimentally by Westervelt in the 1950s, was later explained theoretically in 1960, at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. A few years after this, a full paper  was published as an extension of Westervelt's classic work on the nonlinear Scattering of Sound by Sound, as described in [8,6,12].
The application of Lighthill’s theory to the nonlinear acoustic realm yields the Westervelt–Lighthill Equation (WLE). Solutions to this equation have been developed using Green's functions [4,5] and Parabolic Equation (PE) Methods, most notably via the Kokhlov–Zablotskaya–Kuznetzov (KZK) equation.
An alternate mathematical formalism using Fourier operator methods in wavenumber space, was also developed by Westervelt, and generalized in  for solving the WLE in a most general manner. The solution method is formulated in Fourier (wavenumber) space in a representation related to the beam patterns of the primary fields generated by linear sources in the medium. This formalism has been applied not only to parametric arrays , but also to other nonlinear acoustic effects, such as the absorption of sound by sound and to the equilibrium distribution of sound intensity spectra in cavities .
Practical applications are numerous and include:
- underwater sound
- medical ultrasound
- and tomography Zhang, Dong; Chen, Xi; Xiu-fen, Gong (2001). "Acoustic nonlinearity parameter tomography for biological tissues via parametric array from a circular piston source—Theoretical analysis and computer simulations". The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 109 (3): 1219–1225. Bibcode:2001ASAJ..109.1219Z. doi:10.1121/1.1344160.
- underground seismic prospecting
- active noise control
- and directional high-fidelity commercial audio systems (Sound from ultrasound)
Parametric receiving arrays can also be formed for directional reception. In 2005, Elwood Norris won the $500,000 MIT-Lemelson Prize for his application of the parametric array to commercial high-fidelity loudspeakers.
- Beyer, Robert T. "Preface to the Original Edition". Nonlinear Acoustics.
- Novikov, B. K.; Rudenko, O. V.; Timoshenko, V. I. (1987). Nonlinear Underwater Acoustics. Translated by Robert T. Beyer. American Institute of Physics. ISBN 9780883185223. OCLC 16240349.
- Trenchard, Stephen E.; Coppens, Alan B. (1980). "Experimental study of a saturated parametric array in air". The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 68 (4): 1214–1216. Bibcode:1980ASAJ...68.1214T. doi:10.1121/1.384959.
- Johnson, P. A.; Meegan, G. D.; McCall, K.; Bonner, B. P.; Shankland, T. J. (1992). "Finite amplitude wave studies in earth materials". The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 91 (4): 2350. Bibcode:1992ASAJ...91.2350J. doi:10.1121/1.403453.
- Parametric Beam Formation in Rock
- Professor Peter Westervelt and the parametric array
- Institute of Acoustics - Medals & Awards Programme Archived 2009-06-28 at the Wayback Machine
- Westervelt, Peter J. (1975). "The status and future of nonlinear acoustics". The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 57 (6): 1352–1356. Bibcode:1975ASAJ...57.1352W. doi:10.1121/1.380612.
- Sources of Difference Frequency Sound in a Dual-Frequency Imaging System with Implications for Monitoring Thermal Surgery[permanent dead link]
- Kaduchak, Gregory; Sinha, Dipen N.; Lizon, David C.; Kelecher, Michael J. (2000). "A non-contact technique for evaluation of elastic structures at large stand-off distances: applications to classification of fluids in steel vessels". Ultrasonics. 37 (8): 531–536. doi:10.1016/S0041-624X(99)00109-2.
- Naugolnykh, Konstantin A.; Esipov, Igor B. (1995). "Remote ocean sensing by parametric array". The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 98 (5): 2915. Bibcode:1995ASAJ...98.2915N. doi:10.1121/1.414208.
- Konofagou, Elisa; Thierman, Jonathan; Hynynen, Kullervo (2001). "A focused ultrasound method for simultaneous diagnostic and therapeutic applications—a simulation study". Physics in Medicine and Biology. 46 (11): 2967–2984. Bibcode:2001PMB....46.2967K. doi:10.1088/0031-9155/46/11/314.
- Muir, T. G.; Wyber, R. J. (1984). "High‐resolution seismic profiling with a low‐frequency parametric array". The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 76 (S1): S78. Bibcode:1984ASAJ...76...78M. doi:10.1121/1.2022023.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-03-09. Retrieved 2006-12-05.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- n:Elwood Norris receives 2005 Lemelson-MIT Prize for invention.
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-  T.G. Muir, Office of Naval Research Special Report - "Science, Technology and the Modern Navy, Thirtieth Anniversary (1946-1976), Paper ONR-37, "Nonlinear Acoustics: A new Dimension in Underwater Sound", published by the Department of the Navy (1976)
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-  Nonlinear Parameter Imaging Computed Tomography by Parametric Acoustic Array Y. Nakagawa; M. Nakagawa; M. Yoneyama; M. Kikuchi. IEEE 1984 Ultrasonics Symposium. Volume, Issue, 1984 Page(s):673–676