A Brief History of Ultrasounds

History of Ultrasounds, Ultrasound Systems - Thu May 03 2018

Echolocation, Animals, and Physics:

Ultrasound machines have a fascinating history, and like most wildly creative and sophisticated inventions, was practically stumbled upon by accident. Hundreds of years ago, dating back to 1794, a Physiologist named Lazzaro Spallanzani began to study echolocation amongst bats. Echolocation, a method of communication used by various animals including bats, whales, dolphins, and some birds, is extremely sophisticated and allows for animals to navigate and communicate without being able to see. For bats, animals with poor eyesight who are nearly always in the dark, this ability to use sound to communicate and even “see” their food is necessary for survival. Dolphins and whales use echolocation in a similar way; to navigate and communicate through dark and murky water and oceans.
Dolphin Echolocation
Certain mammals use sonar to echolocate nearby activity


The physics behind this rare form of communication is the backbone of all ultrasound imaging. These animals communicate by emitting high pitched sounds that hit an object, which in turn create an echo. Once the echo bounces off the object it returns to the animal. The animal can then locate or identity this prey, food, animal, or whatever the object may be. Ultrasound machines fundamentally work the same way. The probe emits a sound wave, which strikes the part of the body that is being diagnosed, and proceeds to penetrate the body and create an echo. The echo is then translated into moving images.


Despite having the physics to create ultrasounds, the means of translating the sound waves into images had yet to be discovered. In fact, it took nearly a century until Pierre and Jacques Currie discovered another crucial building block to producing ultrasound images in 1877: Piezoelectricity.

Piezoelectricity is an enchanting occurrence; when certain specific materials, such as crystals, ceramics, bones and protein, gather electricity as a result of mechanical stress (like pushing an ultrasound probe against flesh or a phantom). Ultrasound transducers are built with tiny crystals inserted into the lens or the face of the probe. When the lens is placed against a patient’s chest, leg, or arm,for example, this electrical accumulation begins and translates the sound waves into what we now know to be ultrasound images.
breakdown of piezoelectric crystal in probes
Reflection of Ultrasound waves IN
Electrical signals from the piezoelectric crystals OUT

Medical Application:


It turned out to be another sixty five years before the combination of echolocation and piezoelectricity was applied in a medical context (in 1942). Neurologist Karl Dussik attempted to use an ultrasound probe to detect brain tumors in his patient. From that point on, there was an explosion of ultrasound use in the medical industry. Now, physicians can use ultrasounds all over the body, and scientists have developed doppler imaging (which can be read about in our previous blog How It Works: Doppler Ultrasound Imaging). The potential application of ultrasound technology seems to be endless, and the science behind it is constantly developing and growing.




(Special thanks and credit to https://www.ultrasoundschoolsinfo.com/history/ for providing important information)

At A.M.E. Ultrasounds we pride ourselves on providing the highest quality customer service. If there is a particular topic that you’d be interested in reading about or learning more about, please feel free to contact us!

If you’d like to learn about the author, click HERE

If you’d like to contact us, click HERE


Your team at A.M.E. Ultrasounds