Cornell grad student develops cheap, pocket-size ultrasound device

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George K. Lewis with his newest portable ultrasound device. Image Source: Cornell University  

A prototype of a therapeutic ultrasound device, developed by a Cornell University graduate student, fits in the palm of a hand, is battery-powered and packs enough punch to stabilize a gunshot wound or deliver drugs to brain cancer patients.

The device is wired to a transducer, and it creates sound waves so strong they instantly cause water to bubble, spray and turn into steam, according to Cornell.

George K. Lewis, a third-year PhD student in biomedical engineering and a National Science Foundation fellow, has created ultrasound devices that are smaller, more powerful and many times less expensive than current models. Today’s devices typically weigh 30 pounds and cost $20,000; his is pocket-sized and built with $100. He said that he envisions a world where therapeutic ultrasound machines are found in every hospital and medical research lab.

“New research and applications are going to spin out, now that these systems will be so cheap, affordable and portable in nature,” Lewis said.

The development of one of his portable devices is detailed in Review of Scientific Instruments, published online Nov. 11. Lewis, whose paper is co-authored by his adviser, William L. Olbricht, Cornell professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, also presented his research in a talk at the November meeting of the Acoustical Society of America.

The New York City-based University said that Lewis miniaturized the ultrasound device while increasing its efficiency. Traditional devices apply 500-volt signals across a transducer to convert the voltage to sound waves, but in the process, about half the energy is lost. In the laboratory, Lewis has devised a way to transfer 95 percent of the source energy to the transducer.

His new devices are currently being tested in a clinical setting at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. Under the direction of Jason Spector, MD, director of Weill Cornell's Laboratory for Bioregenerative Medicine and Surgery and assistant professor of plastic surgery, Peter Henderson, MD, the lab's chief research fellow, is using one of the devices in experiments that aim to minimize injury that occurs when tissues do not receive adequate blood flow.