Conventional ultrasound scanners use piezoelectric crystals to create images of the body and send them to a computer to create ultrasound. The researchers replaced piezoelectric crystals with tiny vibrating drums made of polymer resin, called polyCMUT (micro-machined ultrasonic transducers with capacitive polymer), which are less expensive to produce.
"Transducer drums are typically made of rigid silicon materials that require costly and environmentally controlled production processes, and this has hindered their use in ultrasounds" said the lead author of the study Carlos Gerardo, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering at UBC. "Using polymer resin, we were able to produce polyCMUTs in fewer manufacturing steps, using a minimal amount of equipment, resulting in significant savings."
The sonograms produced by the UBC device were crisp or even more detailed than the traditional sonograms produced by piezoelectric transducers, said co-author Edmond Cretu, a professor of electrical and computer engineering.
"Because our transducer only needs 10 volts to operate, it can be powered by a smartphone, making it suitable for use in remote or low-power locations," He added. "Unlike rigid ultrasound probes, our transducer has the potential to be integrated into a flexible material that can be wrapped around the body for easier scanning and more detailed visualizations without dramatically increasing costs."
Co-author Robert Rohling, professor of mechanical engineering and electrical and computer engineering, said the next step in the research is to develop a wide range of prototypes and ultimately test their device in clinical applications.
"You could miniaturize these transducers and use them to look inside your arteries and veins, you could attach them to your chest and live the continuous monitoring of your heart in your daily life, opening so many different possibilities" said Rohling.
The research was recently published in Nature Microsystems & Nanoengineering.
source and image above: University of British Columbia