ITHACA, N.Y. A prototype of a therapeutic ultrasound device, developed by a Cornell 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. It is wired to a ceramic probe, called a transducer, and it creates sound waves so strong they instantly cause water to bubble, spray and turn into steam.
Tinkering in his Olin Hall lab, George K. Lewis, a third-year Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering and a National Science Foundation fellow, creates ultrasound devices that are smaller, more powerful and many times less expensive than today's models. Devices today can weigh 30 pounds and cost $20,000; his is pocket-sized and built with $100. 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 the journal Review of Scientific Instruments (79-114302), 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.
Ultrasound is commonly used as a nondestructive imaging technique in medical settings. Sound waves, inaudible to humans, can generate images through soft tissue, allowing, for instance, a pregnant woman to view images of her baby. But the higher-energy ultrasound that Lewis works with can treat such conditions as prostate tumors or kidney stones by breaking them up. His devices also can relieve arthritis pressure and even help treat brain cancer by pushing drugs quickly through the brain following surgery.
Lewis suggests that his technology could lead to such innovations as cell phone-siz
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