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  • Post published:27/07/2021
  • Post last modified:27/07/2021

Everyone is aware these days about the use of ultrasound in medicine, although most people will associated ultrasound with pregnancy as every pregnant women is offered at least two baby scan as part of the NHS prenatal care. The spectrum of ultrasound imaging however today is so wide and it is not confined only in medicine but includes applications in engineering and other disciplines.

Most of the people however excluding sonographers and physicists are not aware how ultrasound was discovered and how it became such a common medical imaging procedure.

Lest take a look back in history to find out how the sound waves became the diagnostic tool used in private ultrasound clinics and hospitals all over the world today.

Who discovered Ultrasound?

The first paper about ultrasound was published in 1794 by Lazzaro  Spallanzani an Italian physiologist and biologist who studied  bats and discovered that they use sound to navigate instead of sight. This property is called echolocation and it is the foundation that governs today’s medical ultrasound.

In 1826 a Swiss physiscict name Jean Daniel Colladon used a church bell under water and discovered that sound travels faster in the water than in air.

Christian Andreas Doppler an Austrian physiscist and mathemticians discovered in 1842 that the frequency of a sound wabe dpends on the speed of the source. This principle is today known s the Doppler effect.

 In 1880 Pierre Curie and his brother Jacques Curie, demonstrated the first piezoelectric effect, which the ability of certain materials to generate an electric charge in response to mechanical stress, using crystals of tourmaline, quartz, topaz, cane sugar, and Rochelle salt.

Th first working sonar system in the United States ws built to detect icebergs by Reginald Fessenden in 1914. This followed by the detection of submarines in 1917 and detection of aircrafts in 1935.

The use of ultrasound in medicine was first evaluated in 1942 by Karl Theodore Dussik to diagnose brain tumours and in 1949 George Döring Ludwig, used ultrasound to detect gallstones.

The use of ultrasound in medicine accelerated and its use was established in urology and cardiac applications and in 1958, Ian Donald publishes an article in The Lancet, titled Investigation of Abdominal Masses by Pulsed Ultrasound. Donald uses ultrasound to detect abdominal tumors and cysts and later is able to detect a twin pregnancy. Ian Donald becomes the father of OB-GYN ultrasound.

 

Ultrasound History Timeline

You can see a detailed timeline in the history of ultrasound below.

Echolocation

Lazzaro Spallanzani a physiologist, was the first to study echolocation among bats, which is the fundamental principle of ultrasound.

1794
1877

Piezoelectricity

Pierre and Jacques Currie discover piezoelectricity a technology used in ultrasound probes to emit and receive sound waves.

Hydrophone

Physicist Paul Langevin was commissioned to invent a device that detected objects at the bottom of the sea as a result of the sinking of the Titanic. He invented  the hydrophone which today is perceived as the first transducer.

1915
1920s-1940s

Sonography used for Therapy

Sonography was used as a treatment, to appease arthritic pain and eczema and to sterilize vaccines

First Medical Diagnosis using Ultrasound

Neurologist Karl Dussik was the first to use sonography for medical diagnoses in his attempts to detecting brain tumours.

1942
1948

A-Mode Ultrasound

George D. Ludwig, M.D. was the developer of A-mode ultrasound used to detect gallstones.

B-Mode Ultrasound

Douglas Howry and Joseph Holmes,  were  the leading pioneers of B-mode ultrasound equipment and John Reid and John Wild invented a handheld B-mode device to detect breast tumours.

1949-1951
1953

First Echocardiogram

Physician Inge Edler and Engineer C. Hellmuth Hertz performed the first successful echocardiogram 

Ultrasound in Ob/Gyn

Dr. Ian Donald incorporated ultrasound into the OB/GYN field of medicine.

1958
1966

Doppler Technique

Don Baker, Dennis Watkins, and John Reid designed pulsed Doppler ultrasound technology to image blood flow 

CWD, Spectral and Colour Doppler

In the 1970s there were nmany advances of ultrasound technology including the continuous wave Doppler, spectral wave Doppler and colour Doppler ultrasound.

1970s
1980a

3D Ultrasound

Kazunori Baba developed 3D ultrasound technology and captured three-dimensional images of a foetus.

Ultrasound in Critical Care

Daniel Lichtenstein introduced lung and general sonography in intensive care units.

1989
1990s

3D/4D

Ultrasound technology advanced  improving 2D and 3D image quality. These improvements lead to the introduction of 4D ultrasound. 

Mobile Sonography

Ultrasound technology never stopped improving and today ultrasound images can be obtained not only with laptop ultrasound scanners but also with wireless probes and mobile phones.

2000 - Present