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Ultrasound technology
Octoson ultrasound scanner for images of body organs

One product of Australian research and manufacturing in the 1970s led to a revolution in pre-natal care: most pregnant women in Australia and other wealthy countries now have at least one ultrasound scan to check on the development of the foetus. This can give expectant parents peace of mind, help them prepare to care for a child with physical problems, or raise the option of abortion.

While researching the use of ultrasound (high-pitched sound) to 'see' inside the human body, CSIRO's Ultrasonic Research Centre made a technical breakthrough called 'grey scale imaging'. This was a way of picking fine differences in ultrasound echoes bouncing off soft tissue in the human body and converting them into TV pictures.

The Ausonics company commercialised this technology in 1976 in the UI Octoson scanner. The patient lies on a water bed covered with a flexible membrane. Ultrasonic waves from eight speakers are beamed through the water and reflect off the part of the patient's body in contact with the membrane, and off internal organs. The echoes are interpreted as a picture on a TV screen. The Octoson was the first medical instrument to provide good images of internal organs, or of a foetus inside the uterus, without exposure to damaging X-rays.

Over 250 of the expensive scanners were sold worldwide. They were used for viewing foetuses and diagnosing medical problems in the breast, abdomen, penis and testes.

In the mid 1980?s the water path equipment was overtaken by developments in contact, real time scanners, but ultrasound remained an important diagnostic technique.

Who Did It?
Key Organisations
Ausonics Pty Ltd : design, manufacture

Ultrasonics Institute : R&D, design
Key People
George Kossoff : researcher
Dave Carpenter : project leader

Further Reading
Australian made: success stories in Australian manufacturing
Brian Carroll
Institution of Production Engineers, Parkville, 1987, p 129.

History of ultrasound developments in obstetrics and gynaecology
Article by George Kossoff, Breast News: Newsletter of the NHMRC National Breast Cancer Centre,Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 2000
Ultrasound related links
How ultrasound works

Questions & Activities
Ultrasound technology

Powerhouse Museum Objects
Ultrasound medical imaging equipment

An image of an ultrasound scan of a baby developing in the womb. Courtesy Ausonics International.
The complete UI Octoson setup. The ultrasound machine looks like a giant waterbed. High frequency soundwaves are sent through the water to the patient. Courtesy Ausonics International.
ATSE Powerhouse Museum