New material could improve ultrasound technology

Ultrasound technology could soon experience a significant upgrade that would enable it to produce high-quality, high-resolution images thanks to the development of a new key material by a team of researchers that includes a professor in Texas A&M University's department of biomedical engineering.

The material, which converts ultrasound waves into optical signals that can be used to produce an image, is the result of a collaborative effort by Texas A&M Professor Vladislav Yakovlev and researchers from King's College London, The Queen's University of Belfast and the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Their findings appear in the current issue of Advanced Materials.

The engineered material, known as a ''metamaterial,'' offers significant advantages over conventional ultrasound technology, which generates images by converting ultrasound waves into electrical signals, Yakovlev explains.

Although that technology has advanced throughout the years -- think of the improvement in sonogram images -- it is still largely constrained by bandwidth and sensitivity limitations, he says. These limitations, he adds, have been the chief obstacle when it comes to producing high-quality images that can serve as powerful diagnostic tools.

The metamaterial developed by Yakovlev and his colleagues is not subject to those limitations, primarily because it converts ultrasound waves into optical signals rather than electrical ones. The optical processing of the signal does not limit the bandwidth or sensitivity of the transducer (converter) -- and that's important for producing highly detailed images, Yakovlev says.

''A high bandwidth allows you to sample the change of distance of the acoustic waves with a high precision,'' Yakovlev notes. ''This translates into an image that shows greater detail. Greater sensitivity enables you to see deeper in tissue, suggesting we have the potential to generate images that might have previously not been possible with conventional ultrasound technology.''