When we think of ultrasound, immediately images of tiny babies still in utero and expectant parents anxiously waiting come to mind. However, many other uses for ultrasound exist other than in the field of obstetrics.
Ultrasound is used in the beef industry to assist farmers in bulking up cattle and pigs, in order to have optimal meat to fat ratios. This allows meat farmers to produce more meat that is graded as choice. Choice meat has more fat marbled throughout the muscle and less around the backbone areas. The animals are scanned with an ultrasound transducer just as humans are during diagnostic tests, with no harm to the animal.
A special type of ultrasound, called power ultrasound, uses high energy waves above 20kHz to remove mineral matter on coal and free the coal from clay, minerals, and oxidation. This process provides a coal that is lower in ash, sulfur, and mercury and thus burns cleaner.
One of the most interesting and emerging uses of ultrasound technology involves treating war-wounded soldiers on the battlefield. The portable handheld ultrasound machine can quickly scan the patient to find sources of internal bleeding, and then switch to focused high intensity beams of ultrasound to cauterize the bleeding wound.
Medics on the frontlines of battle are faced with two extremes in bleeding situations. The first is an arterial bleed which leads to shock in thirty seconds or so from the extremely rapid blood loss, and the slower internal bleeding that can go undetected, but kill within a matter of hours.
The machines have to be lightweight, yet tough and durable enough to withstand being jostled during troop movements. The devices also need to be automated to provide simplicity in use to soldiers who have had minimal training with the devices. The machines are about two years away from being a reality.
Another ultrasound device under development will be capable of sealing puncture wounds in femoral arteries following cardiac catheterization procedures. The wound can be sealed within thirty seconds versus using pressure devices, stitches, or plugging to stop the bleeding.
Other wartime uses of ultrasound technology have included a portable ultrasound device that could detect plastic. This device, developed in the 1990’s, was used to assist in the location of landmines and explosive devices, which were just beginning to employ the use of plastic shrapnel.
Diagnostic ultrasound uses sound waves that bounce back off solid objects and produce images from the echoes created. Therapeutic ultrasound, however, uses one-way bursts that focus downward into points of sound with pinpoint accuracy. The size of the points must be approximately equivalent to a grain of rice to prevent damage to healthy tissue. It is hoped that, one day, devices of this type could be useful life-saving tools in the hands of paramedics in the field.
From uses in diagnostic medicine, to robotic surgery and the food we eat, ultrasound technology is helping to keep us fed, healthy, and warm.