VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Engineers at the University of British Columbia have developed a portable, wearable ultrasound transducer that is powered by a smartphone. Conventional ultrasound scanners use piezoelectric crystals to create images of the inside of the body and send them to a computer to create sonograms, said Carlos Gerardo, lead author of a recent study on the technology that was published in Nature Microsystems & Nanoengineering.The researchers replaced the piezoelectric crystals with tiny vibrating drums made of polymer resin, called polyCMUTs (polymer capacitive micro-machined ultrasound transducers), which are cheaper to manufacture. “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,” Gerardo said in a statement. “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.” Sonograms produced by the UBC device were as sharp as or even more detailed than traditional sonograms produced by piezoelectric transducers. “Since our transducer needs just 10 volts to operate, it can be powered by a smartphone, making it suitable for use in remote or low-power locations,” said Gerardo. The researchers are next developing a range of prototypes, including a flexible material that can be wrapped around the body for easier scanning and more detailed views. “You could miniaturize these transducers and use them to look inside your arteries and veins,” said study co-author Robert Rohling, in a statement. “You could stick them on your chest and do live continuous monitoring of your heart in your daily life. It opens up so many different possibilities,” said Rohling.
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