Revolutionary ultrasonic nanotechnology that could allow scientists to
see inside a patient’s individual cells to help diagnose serious
illnesses is being developed by researchers at The University of
The new technique would utilise ultrasound technology — more
commonly used to look at whole bodies such as fetal scanners — to
look inside cells. The components of the new technology would be many
thousand times smaller than current systems.
The technology would be tiny enough to allow scientists to see
inside and image individual cells in the human body, which would
further our understanding of the structure and function of cells and
could help to detect abnormalities to diagnose serious illnesses such
as some cancers.
be detected by the human ear, typically 20 kHz and above. Medical
ultrasound uses an electrical transducer the size of a matchbox to
produce sound waves at much higher frequencies, typically around
100-1000 times higher to probe bodies.
The Nottingham researchers are aiming to produce a miniaturised
version of this technology, with transducers so tiny that you could fit
500 across the width of one human hair which would produce sound waves
at frequencies a thousand times higher again, in the GHz range.
Dr Matt Clark of the Ultrasonics Group, said: “By examining
the mechanical properties inside a cell there is a huge amount that we
can learn about its structure and the way it functions. But it’s
very much a leap into the unknown as this has never been achieved
“One of the reasons for this is that it presents an enormous
technical challenge. To produce nano-ultrasonics you have to produce a
nano-transducers, which essentially means taking a device that is
currently the size of a matchbox and scaling it down to the nanoscale.
How do you attach a wire to something so small?
“Our answer to some of these challenges is to create a device
that works optically — using pulses of laser light to produce
ultrasound rather than an electrical current. This allows us to talk to
these tiny devices.”