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Ultrasound Imaging

• • • • • • • • • • • Ultrasonic waves Interaction with tissue Tissue properties Production and detection of ultrasound Fields of ultrasound transducers Image formation Resolution in ultrasound images Electronic focusing Real time imaging Doppler ultrasound Demonstration of ultrasound technology, meet in IAHS lobby, Thursday 5:45 pm.

Download overheads at Further reading (available electronically at McMaster) PNT Wells, Ultrasonic imaging of the human body, Reports on Progress in Physics 62 671-722 (1999).

The Ultrasound Spectrum

WAVELENGTH IN WATER 1.5 mm 0.015 mm

l f = 1500 ms -1 FREQUENCY In water Ultrasound microscopy

1 GHz

100 MHz Medical imaging

0.15 mm 1.5 mm

10 MHz

1.0 MHz

Therapeutic applications

15 mm

0.1 MHZ 0.02 MHz (20 kHz, hearing threshold)

Description of Ultrasonic Waves

• In general, both compressional and shear waves can propagate in a solid, but soft tissue will support only compressional waves. • While there are minor differences in the velocity of ultrasound in soft tissues, the value 1540 meters per second is assumed in image reconstruction. The variation of velocity with frequency ( i.e. dispersion) can also be ignored. A round trip of 1 cm takes 13 microseconds in tissue. • The product of wavelength and frequency is equal to the wave velocity, so in soft tissue the wavelength of 10 MHz ultrasound is 0.15 mm. The wavelength plays an important part in determining the ultimate resolution that can be achieved with an imaging system.

• The energy transported by the wave per unit time per unit area is referred to as the intensity. The usual units are Watts per square centimeter. The average intensity in diagnostic applications is below 100 mW cm -2, but the peak intensity can be much higher.

“relaxation processes” in which acoustic energy is coupled to changes in molecular conformation are important. Scattering Scattering of the ultrasonic wave does not take place unless the wave encounters a change in acoustic impedance. For simple fluids. the skull) is about five times higher and that of air is lower by a factor of 3. the main mechanism is viscous loss. For complex media. the fraction of incident energy scattered by the inhomogeneity will increase with both of these quantities.700. For water Z is 1.Propagation of Ultrasonic Waves Absorption This occurs even when the wave propagates in a homogeneous medium such as a tank of water. .In general. Note that the acoustic impedance of compact bone (e. For our purposes.48 X 106 kg m-2 s -1 and most soft tissues are within a ten per cent of this value. The physical process of scattering depends in a complex way on the size of the inhomogeneity and its acoustic impedance relative to the surrounding medium.viscous losses vary as f2 and relaxation losses somewhere between linear and quadratic dependence. Both mechanisms are dependent on frequency . such as tissue. the acoustic impedance is Z = ρc where ρ is the density and c is the speed of sound.g.

Two special cases for scattering #1 Object much smaller than the wavelength A classic example is scattering by a single red blood cell. θ Z1 θ Specular reflection Z2 φ For the simple case of normal incidence the intensity reflection coefficient is R = [(Z2 . This is analogous to Rayleigh scattering of light by small particles. of diameter about 10 microns.Z1)/(Z2 + Z1)]2 . In this regime the scattering is approximately the same in all directions. #2 Large object with a “smooth” boundary In this case the incident wave is reflected and refracted at the surface analogous to the behavior of a light wave at a discontinuity in refractive index. and the scattering cross-section is proportional to f4.

42.63)2 = 0. the transmission is 58%.1. TRANSDUCER SKIN COUPLING GEL . 33% but it is used in infants where the skull is not BRAIN yet calcified.80 + 1. The intensity reflection coefficient is (7.Implications of Specular Reflection Consider a soft tissue/bone interface. we would only get 33% of the incident intensity into the brain. so ultrasound is not useful in imaging the lung. 100% SKIN This is one reason that ultrasound is not used 58% to image the adult brain.63)2 / (7. The reflection coefficient at gas/tissue SKULL interfaces is even larger. and only 33% of the scattered intensity out of the brain. The gel fills the space between the transducer and the skin and prevents reflection by trapped air.80 . This also explains why a coupling gel is used during ultrasound exams. This means that if we were trying to use ultrasound to image the brain. In other words.

Frequency dependence The attenuation coefficient is a function of ultrasound frequency. but at 10 MHz. As shown on the next diagram. a good rule-of-thumb is that the attenuation coefficient for soft tissue is 1 dB cm-1 MHz-1. The intensity falls off exponentially with distance. or a factor of 10. After 20 cm it would be reduced by 20 dB or a factor of 100. In fact.Attenuation Together. Digression on the decibel The decibel scale is a way to represent the ratio of two intensities. Note the implications: at 1 MHz. but with ultrasound it is conventional to express the attenuation coefficient in dB cm-1. we can express the ratio as dB ratio = 10 log10 (I1 / I2) so if the attenuation coefficient is. . If the two intensities are I1 and I2.000. 1 dB cm-1.000! This frequency-dependent attenuation imposes limits on the performance of imaging systems. after transmission through 10 cm of tissue the intensity will be reduced by 10 dB. We could express this as exp (-μx) using a linear attenuation coefficient μ. absorption and scattering result in attenuation of the ultrasound wave. transmission through 10 cm of tissue reduces intensity by a factor of 10. the coefficient is roughly proportional to frequency for a variety of tissues. for example. transmission through 10 cm of tissue reduces intensity by a factor of 10.000.


Certain natural crystals (e. or PZT. In medical applications. For PZT. These materials also demonstrate a reciprocal piezoelectric effect: a voltage is generated across the crystal which is proportional to the applied pressure. a 1 mm thick transducer resonates at 2 MHz. it may be detrimental in other ways. the same “transducer” is used to generate acoustic waves and to detect the waves scattered by tissue. Most medical transducers are fabricated from a ceramic material: lead zirconate titanate. Synthetic materials demonstrate a much more efficient conversion of electrical to acoustic energy. A transducer has a natural resonant frequency corresponding to a wavelength (in the material) that is twice the transducer thickness. The resulting voltage can be detected and amplified.g. . This pressure can result from an acoustic wave incident on the crystal. quartz) undergo a change in physical size when an electric field is imposed on the crystal. first discovered in the late 1800’s. so we have a means of detecting acoustic waves as well as generating them. While resonance contributes to efficient energy conversion.Generation and detection of ultrasound Both rely on the piezoelectric effect. + - This change can launch an acoustic wave in the surrounding medium.

If the transducer is “damped” so that it does not resonate. PRESSURE POWER BANDWIDTH TIME FREQUENCY . Hence it is generally desirable for the source to emit a short pulse. the pulse is much shorter.Most ultrasound imaging is based on the localization of “echoes” or scattered waves from structures within the tissue. we would expect that it is easier to figure out where a short pulse came from because longer pulses would lead to temporal overlap in the echoes and greater ambiguity about their source. and the spectrum is correspondingly broad. Intuitively. This corresponds to a narrow frequency spectrum. but this is not what we get from a resonating transducer: PRESSURE TIME POWER FREQUENCY The emitted pulse lasts a long time and looks like a pure “tone”.

that the PZT crystal is shaped like a spherical shell. It can be shown that this maximizes power transfer from the PZT to the tissue in the same way anti-reflective coatings work on glasses and other optics. Similar results could be achieved with an acoustic lens As discussed later. Note also the matching layer.This diagram shows a single element transducer with electrical connections and mechanical damping. Its thickness is one quarter wavelength. This is fabricated of material with an acoustic impedance between that of the PZT crystal (very high) and tissue. Note also. . This results in a focussed wave. Multi-element arrays offer potential for electronic focussing and real-time imaging. single element transducers are no longer used in medical imaging.

Acoustic fields of ultrasonic transducers A very small transducer (compared to the ultrasound wavelength) would act like a point source (and detector). In order to calculate the resulting field we must consider the possibility of interference and sum all of the waves taking into account their relative phase. This would be useless for imaging because we would not be able to direct the ultrasound pulse to a specific region. This is exactly what you do to calculate the diffraction pattern from a single slit in optics. but at some arbitrary point in the tissue. Each emits a spherical wave. these waves do not arrive in phase because the distance to each element is different. We can conceptually divide the transducer into many small elements. Let’s consider a larger transducer as shown below. nor would we be able to tell which direction echoes were coming from. all vibrating in phase. and the same sort of integral appears in the acoustic problem. AXIS OF SYMMETRY P .

Mathematically. In the “far field” we see a well-defined peak on the axis of the transducer. we can show that the amplitude of the acoustic pressure wave is proportional to 2 J1 (k a sin θ) k a sin θ J1 is first order Bessel function where k = 2π/λ .This diagram shows the amplitude of the pressure field when the disk transducer vibrates at a single frequency. The peak broadens and decreases in size as we move farther from the transducer. Close to the transducer in the “near field” there is a complex interference pattern.

The general features of the field are the same if we consider the frequency to correspond to the average of the power spectrum. Note that a focused transducer can be used as a detector and that it will have the same directional sensitivity.number. The sharp maxima and minima of the interference pattern are not so evident for pulsed excitation. .We can do the same calculation for a focused transducer with the geometry shown below: Focal plane a z P r In the focal plane the pressure amplitude is proportional to 2 J1 (kr / 2f) where f = z / 2a is called (kr / 2f) the f .number or f# Note that the amplitude peak becomes narrower as we decrease λ (i. If the transducer emits a pulse (as it usually does) rather than a continuous wave. the calculation is more complex because the pulse contains energy at many frequencies.e. increase frequency) or as we decrease the f .

In the early days of ultrasound imaging this was accomplished by moving a single element transducer over the surface of the patient. how do you make images? To obtain a complete image it is necessary to a “fill in the box” by getting sufficient A scans.…. . it is instructive to examine the resolution attainable with the older enough physics. Before considering modern methods..

the “speckle” in the image. and the characteristic appearance of the cyst in the thyroid gland. Image courtesy of GE Healthcare .Typical ultrasound image – note the high resolution at 12 MHz.

Axial direction Lateral direction . Typical values of axial resolution are 1 mm or less. The axial resolution is determined by the pulse length. This is why it is important to have well-designed wide-band transducers that emit a short pulse.Resolution in Ultrasound Images Consider the case of a rectilinear scan where parallel A scans are obtained by translation of the transducer.

e. . a higher frequency can be used than is possible with a large organ like the liver. The first option is limited by the clinical requirements for penetration. systems use the highest frequency possible. The second option is limited by the fact that stronger focusing (i. lower f#) will result in a reduced “depth-of-field”.The lateral resolution depends on the focusing properties of the transducer. It can be improved by increasing the frequency or by decreasing the f#. This means that lateral resolution is rapidly degraded at depths out of the focal plane. For a small organ like the thyroid. In general.

Schematic illustration of the depth-of-field problem Low f-number transducer High f-number transducer Focal plane .

The concept is illustrated below: .Electronic focusing The depth-of-field problem can be overcome to some extent by focusing the transducer at different depths for different parts of the image.

Electronic focusing can be achieved with annular arrays or with linear arrays of transducer elements. A lens can be used with a linear array to provide some (fixed) focusing in the plane perpendicular to the array. .

L. Early scanners overcame this problem by using a rotating or rocking scanner: Surface Shaded area is the imaged region. Because of its shape. This requires about 30 images (or frames) per second. Practically. For a frame rate F. this is sometimes called a sector scan. In order to avoid ambiguity in echo location we require 1/F = 2 L d/c where c is sound velocity Clearly it is not possible to translate a transducer quickly enough to get real time images.Real time ultrasound imaging A major advantage of modern systems is the ability to acquire images in “real time”. . and the maximum depth to be imaged. this means that an image must be obtained in a time comparable to persistence of human vision. d. there is a relationship between the number of A scans in the image.

so that each is used to get an A scan.Another way to do this would be to have an array of transducer excited sequentially. The problem with this approach is that a single element has very poor lateral resolution. This can be overcome by using groups of array elements to steer and focus the beam as shown below: .

. Advances in these technologies have allowed real time systems to become small.The implementation of these ideas requires sophisticated electronics and fabrication techniques. portable. and cheap compared to other imaging methods.

The same thing happens when ultrasound is scattered by a moving object such as a red blood cell. Note: the factor of two appears in the equation because the moving object “hears” a Doppler shift. this can be presented to the operator as an audible signal. . the Doppler shift is in the kHz regime. as does the observer of the scattered ultrasound.Doppler ultrasound The Doppler shift is a familiar phenomenon at audible frequencies. For typical blood velocities and ultrasound frequencies. In simple systems.

. This is one case where a narrow-band or cw system is advantageous. One problem with such a system is that it provides no depth resolution so it may be difficult to localize the blood flow information.Large signal from stationary objects POWER Blood moving away from the transducer Weak Doppler signals due to blood moving towards the transducer FREQUENCY The Doppler signal must be found in the “clutter” of signals from stationary objects. This is overcome in pulsed Doppler systems that determine the Doppler shift as a function of depth.


and there is a relationship between this and the blood flow velocity.Color flow imaging Blood vessel Consider the two signals above. the greater the difference in the signals. acquired a short time apart without moving the transducer. . The faster blood is flowing. but the signal from the blood vessel has changed because a different arrangement of scatterers fills the volume that contributes to the signal. Red and blue are used to code for direction of flow and the brightness of the color is used to indicate velocity. As expected. the signal from stationary tissue is unchanged. The “difference” can be mathematically quantified as a correlation. This information can be obtained everywhere in the image and overlaid as a color on the normal gray scale image.

This increases sensitivity and allows imaging of organ perfusion .Example (from GE’s clinical image library) of color Doppler study of carotid stenosis. Instead of imaging flow velocity. another mode is “power Doppler” where the integral of the power spectrum is displayed.

For example. . this image (courtesy of GE) shows renal perfusion.