Diagnosing the depth and severity of burns is presently an unmet medical need. Conventional technologies, such as MRI and traditional ultrasound, are either too time-consuming or cumbersome. In addition, they are painful for the patient if they require direct contact with the burn area.
The above is a schematic of an ultrasound device that can take pictures of burns without touching the patient. It produces sound waves in the piezoelectric transducer, a device that converts electrical energy to mechanical energy. Then, the sound waves pass through the transition layers, multiple layers of specially designed materials with each succeeding layer having a value of impedance (the product of the layer's density and the speed of sound through the layer) closer to that of air. As a result, the transition layers increase the proportion of sound that is transmitted into the air, and reduce the proportion of sound reflected back into the device. This allows a significantly greater proportion of sound to be transmitted to the body, and reflected back, to obtain enough of a signal for an image.
The researchers could image burns by holding their device about two inches away from the skin, in about a minute or so. The device (pictured below) is portable, potentially enabling medical technicians to image burns at the scene of an accident.
reported by: Joie Jones, UC-Irvine, et al. at the 138th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Columbus, Ohio, November 1999.