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Focus That Ultrasound And Get Clearer Medical Images

Developments to Watch


Ultrasonic waves are used in many key technologies, including medical imaging, sonar, and nondestructive testing. But for decades, the quality of these transmissions has been compromised because a single ultrasound beam is accompanied by a field of sound beams that fan out in all directions, much like the spray of water from a garden hose. Now, Mack A. Breazeale, a senior research scientist at the University of Mississippi, has fashioned a transducer--the device that converts electricity into sound waves--that can produce a single focused ultrasonic beam. The result could be clearer pictures of fetuses, better underwater signaling, and more.

The advance, says Breazeale, is based on complicated mathematical calculations that control how quickly the transducer vibrates. "People have been trying to do this for 20 to 30 years," he says. The single beam will give a more accurate view of objects because fewer irrelevant reflections will bounce back and muddy the image. Breazeale says he plans to apply for a patent soon. A major manufacturer of ultrasound equipment has agreed to pay for patenting the invention, for which it will get rights to the technology.EDITED BY EMILY T. SMITH

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