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History of Ultrasound

The medical ultrasound field is continuously evolving in terms of both diagnosis and treatment. The technologies employed in sonography have also developed over time. As new ultrasound procedures continue to be discovered, the demand for ultrasound technicians is on the rise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020 there will be 44% more diagnostic medical sonographers than there were in 2010.

3D ultrasound of baby

If you would like to become a part of this emerging field, you can complete a degree at one of the numerous ultrasound schools across the country. But first, take some time to learn about the history of ultrasound. (Sources: World Congress Ultrasound in Medical Education, The Association for Medical Ultrasound and Radiology Today Magazine).

1794 – Physiologist Lazzaro Spallanzani was the first to study echolocation among bats, which forms the basis for ultrasound physics.

1877 – Brothers Pierre and Jacques Currie discover piezoelectricity. Ultrasound transducers (probes) emit and receive sound waves by way of the piezoelectric effect.

1915 – Inspired by the sinking of the Titanic, Physicist Paul Langevin was commissioned to invent a device that detected objects at the bottom of the sea. Laugevin invented a hydrophone – what the World Congress Ultrasound in Medical Education refers to as the “first transducer”.

1920s-1940s – Sonography was used to treat members of European soccer teams as a form of physical therapy, to appease arthritic pain and eczema and to sterilize vaccines, states Joan Baker who holds several ARDMS ultrasound certifications.

1942 – Neurologist Karl Dussik is credited with being the first to use sonography for medical diagnoses. He transmitted an ultrasound beam through the human skull in attempts of detecting brain tumors.

1948 – George D. Ludwig, M.D., an Internist at the Naval Medical Research Institute, developed A-mode ultrasound equipment to detect gallstones.

1949-1951 – Douglas Howry and Joseph Holmes, from the University of Colorado, were some of the leading pioneers of B-mode ultrasound equipment, including the 2D B-mode linear compound scanner. John Reid and John Wild invented a handheld B-mode device to detect breast tumors.

1953 – Physician Inge Edler and Engineer C. Hellmuth Hertz performed the first successful echocardiogram by employing an echo test control device from a Siemens shipyard.

1958 – Dr. Ian MacDonald incorporated ultrasound into the OB/GYN field of medicine.

1966 – Don Baker, Dennis Watkins, and John Reid designed pulsed Doppler ultrasound technology; their developments led to imaging blood flow in various layers of the heart.

1970s – The 1970s saw many developments including the continuous wave Doppler, spectral wave Doppler and color Doppler ultrasound instruments.

1980s – Kazunori Baba of the University of Tokyo developed 3D ultrasound technology and captured three-dimensional images of a fetus in 1986.

1989 – Professor Daniel Lichtenstein began incorporating lung and general sonography in intensive care units.

1990s – Starting in the 1980s, ultrasound technology became more sophisticated with improved image quality and 3D imaging capabilities. These improvements continued into the 1990s with the adoption of 4D (real time) capabilities. Ultrasound guided biopsies (endoscopic ultrasounds) also began in the 1990s.

2000s – present – Just like personal communication devices are continuously evolving and becoming more convenient, so are ultrasound technologies. A variety of compact, handheld devices have come onto the market in recent years. The iPhone now has a telesonography app and NASA has developed a virtual guidance program for non-sonographers to perform ultrasounds in space.