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Research and Innovation

New Technique Allows Ultrasound To Penetrate Bone, Metal

Using a new technique, “it’s as if the aberrating layer isn’t even there,” says researcher Yun Jing. Image credit: Yun Jing.

For Immediate Release

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a technique that allows ultrasound to penetrate bone or metal, using customized structures that offset the distortion usually caused by these so-called “aberrating layers.”

“We’ve designed complementary metamaterials that will make it easier for medical professionals to use ultrasound for diagnostic or therapeutic applications, such as monitoring blood flow in the brain or to treat brain tumors,” says Tarry Chen Shen, a Ph.D. student at NC State and lead author of a paper on the work. “This has been difficult in the past because the skull distorts the ultrasound’s acoustic field.”

“These metamaterials could also be used in industrial settings,” says Dr. Yun Jing, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State and senior author of the paper. “For example, it would allow you to use ultrasound to detect cracks in airplane wings under the wing’s metal ‘skin.’”

Ultrasound imaging works by emitting high frequency acoustic waves. When those waves bounce off an object, they return to the ultrasound equipment, which translates the waves into an image.

But some materials, such as bone or metal, have physical characteristics that block or distort ultrasound’s acoustic waves. These materials are called aberrating layers.

The researchers addressed this problem by designing customized metamaterial structures that take into account the acoustic properties of the aberrating layer and offsetting them. The metamaterial structure uses a series of membranes and small tubes to achieve the desired acoustic characteristics.

The researchers have tested the technique using computer simulations and are in the process of developing and testing a physical prototype.

In simulations, only 28 percent of ultrasound wave energy makes it past an aberrating layer of bone when the metamaterial structure is not in place. But with the metamaterial structure, the simulation shows that 88 percent of ultrasound wave energy passes through the aberrating layer.

“In effect, it’s as if the aberrating layer isn’t even there,” Jing says.

The technique can be used for ultrasound imaging, as well as therapeutically – such as using ultrasound to apply energy to brain tumors, in order to burn them.

The paper, “An Anisotropic Complementary Acoustic Metamaterial for Cancelling out Aberrating Layers,” is published online in the open access journal Physical Review X. The paper was co-authored by Drs. Jun Xu and Nicholas Fang at MIT. Jing acknowledges financial support from NC Space Grant via a New Investigator award. Xu and Fang acknowledge support from the Office of Naval Research under grant N00014-13-1-0631.


Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.

“An Anisotropic Complementary Acoustic Metamaterial for Cancelling out Aberrating Layers”

Authors: Chen Shen and Yun Jing, North Carolina State University; Jun Xu and Nicholas X. Fang, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Published: Nov. 19 in Physical Review X (open access)


Abstract: In this paper, we investigate a type of anisotropic, acoustic complementary metamaterials (CMM) and their application in restoring acoustic fields distorted by aberrating layers. The proposed quasi 2-D, non-resonant CMM consists of unit cells formed by membranes and side branches with open ends. Simultaneously anisotropic and negative density is achieved by assigning membranes facing each direction (x- and y-direction) with different thicknesses while the compressibility is tuned by the side branches. Numerical examples demonstrate that, the CMM, when placed adjacent to a strongly aberrating layer, could acoustically cancel out that aberrating layer. This leads to dramatically reduced acoustic field distortion and enhanced sound transmission, therefore virtually removing the layer in a noninvasive manner. In the example where a focused beam is studied, using the CMM, the acoustic intensity at the focus is increased from 28% to 88% of the intensity in the control case (without the aberrating layer and the CMM). The proposed acoustic CMM has a wide realm of potential applications, such as cloaking, all angle anti-reflection layers, ultrasound imaging, detection and treatment through aberrating layers.

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  1. I am interested in seeing the results of a scan through metal, wood, or similar materials to determine resolution quality and depth of measurement. Any information you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Hello everyone!!!
    Here the operating frequency ends at 50khz.What will i do when operating above 50khz frequency level? please do reply

  3. I was wondering how effectively these ultrasound waves can transverse through rubber or other materials like wood or cotton?

  4. Hi
    Will it be useful in polymer industry,to see through the metal surface?I mean to ask whether we can see inside reactor/vessel and have an image of what’s happening inside.

  5. Hi Can we use this technique to
    1- image the fracture
    2- estimate the cross section of a bone so we can insert the screws under the quide of uss .I am working in orthopaedic surgery

  6. Could this be used ( with some modification) to measure inter-cranial pressure for people with conditions like psuedo tumor cerebri or IIH?

  7. Hi,
    We are working on ultrasonic level testing from bottom part of a tank. If this sensor can penetrate through the cement structure or a metal structure, what should be the thickness of the cement/metal so that level of water in the tank could be sensed ?

  8. Hi ,
    I am currently working on detecting defects in wood using ultrasound.Since wood is a an-isotropic material the ultrasound waves scatter in different directions and it is very hard to create a 3D image to find the defects. will this new technology be usefull

  9. I am curious on what is necessary to implement this cheaply in current ultrasound devices or to create new ones, My company is a startup that has looked into different devices and I stumbled on this publication.

    We are looking to use ultrasound technology in preventive medicine using our own mobile software.

  10. Hello, I was wondering if it’s possible to use this technique to create a new design of software or machine that could take a complete mouth scan and detect cancer and caries. I’m on the dental field, obviously I do not have a lot of knowledge in this subject. I am just doing some reasearch because I would like to develop a new technology for the dental field.