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Novel ultrasound measurement method to transform new tech applications

Scientists have introduced an ultra-precise sensing approach for the measurement of acoustic and ultrasonic waves.

Fundamental Research

Ultrasound technology has been widely used for decades in various applications and fields, ranging from medical diagnosis and imaging to navigation and the automotive industry. It could get even more powerful, thanks to an extremely sensitive detection method developed by researchers who are partially supported by the EU-funded SIRCIW project. Their findings were published in the journal ‘Nature Communications’. “The improved ultrasound sensitivity and microscale resolution offered by our new acoustic sensing technique has prospects for a range of applications. For instance, it could allow improved navigation and spatial imaging in unmanned and autonomous vehicles,” the researchers said. A news item by the University of Queensland in Australia explains the accuracy of the sensor: “The technology is so sensitive that it can hear, for the first time, the miniscule random forces from surrounding air molecules.” Quoted in the same news item, lead author and research leader Dr Sahar Basiri-Esfahani says that the precision involved with the technology “could change how scientists understand biology.” She explains: “We’ll soon have the ability to listen to the sound emitted by living bacteria and cells. This could fundamentally improve our understanding of how these small biological systems function. A deeper understanding of these biological systems may lead to new treatments, so we’re looking forward to seeing what future applications emerge.” Nanoscale measurements The same news item notes that the University of Queensland researchers combined modern techniques of nanofabrication and nanophotonics “to build the ultraprecise ultrasound sensors on a silicon chip.” It refers to nanofabrication as “the design and manufacture of devices with dimensions measured in nanometres,” while nanophotonics, or nano-optics, is defined as “the study of the behaviour of light on the nanometre scale, and of the interaction of nanometre-scale objects with light.” The journal article emphasises that the “trace gas sensing” application of the new sensor could “enable measurements of the respiration of individual cells and bacteria, such as photosynthesis and gas exchange through the cell membrane.” It states: “Our sensor could also be applied to observe acoustic waves generated by the nanoscale vibrations associated with cellular metabolism.” These measurements “provide insight into molecular processes such as conformational changes,” it adds. The sensor could achieve the measurements “without physical contact, and therefore without disrupting the observed processes or contaminating the sensor.” The SIRCIW (Strengthening International Research Capacity in Wales) project that provided funding to the study helps researchers of all nationalities develop their careers through fellowship programmes. “Fellows will be given employment contracts at their host university, will be encouraged to spend time out in different sectors, and will benefit from a programme of bespoke and innovative training,” as stated on CORDIS. The SIRCIW project will run until the end of August 2020. For more information, please see: SIRCIW project

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