Contemporary ultrasound scanners have piezoelectric crystals inside that are able to generate an electric charge when they’re struck by ultrasonic vibrations. These crystals are really the heart of ultrasound devices, but they’re difficult and expensive to grow. The costs associated with running specialty factories to make crystals is a big reason why ultrasound devices are still expensive.
Now researchers from University of British Columbia in Canada have replaced expensive crystals with polymer resin drums that are much cheaper to make. In addition to the cost savings, their devices, called polyCMUTs (polymer capacitive micro-machined ultrasound transducers), require only 10 volts for power. That means that they may be incorporated into very small medical tools, including for implantable applications, but also for handheld ultrasounds to be powered by the very smartphones that would display the imagery the transducers produce.
“Transducer drums have typically been made out of rigid silicon materials that require costly, environment-controlled manufacturing processes, and this has hampered their use in ultrasound,” said sCarlos Gerardo, a leader of the project. “By using polymer resin, we were able to produce polyCMUTs in fewer fabrication steps, using a minimum amount of equipment, resulting in significant cost savings.”
The researchers believe that conventional ultrasound scanners can be reduced in price down to about $100 while opening up the field of ultrasound to a lot of novel possibilities.
Here’s a short University of British Columnbia video about the new technology:
Study in journal Microsystems and Nanoengineering: Fabrication and testing of polymer-based capacitive micromachined ultrasound transducers for medical imaging…