The Echography

Vision with Sound

by Ahmed Elsheikh

Ahmed Mohamed Elsheikh is a PhD candidate at Polytechnique School of Montreal in the field of Machine learning and pattern recognition.

Ahmed Mohamed Elsheikh is a PhD candidate at Polytechnique School of Montreal in the field of Machine learning and pattern recognition.

The study of sound started with the ancient Greeks. Pythagoras 500 BC. invented the Sonometer, which was used to study musical instrument sounds.

Ultrasound refers to the sound frequencies above 20 kHz and up to 10 MHz. Ultrasound imagery, is inspired from nature by bats and some insects that emit sound waves and recognize their reflections in order to navigate and locate their preys.

The French physicist Pierre Curie’s discovery of piezoelectricity in 1877 is a turning point in the development of ultrasound. The first application of ultrasound, catalyzed by the first world war, is submarine detection by Paul Langevin in 1917. Yet, it was not fully functional.

In 1928, the Soviet physicist Sergei Sokolov suggested using ultrasonic detection for industrial purposes such as detection of flaws in metals.

Ultrasonic as a medical diagnostic modality is relatively new.  The desire to see inside the body drove many scientists through the late 19th and 20th centuries to develop probes and scopes for diagnosis and treatment. William Conrad Roentgen’s discovery of x-rays in 1895 is a start for non-invasive diagnosis. In the 1920s and 1930s, ultrasound was used for physical therapy, primarily for members of Europe’s soccer teams.

Karl Dussik, a neurologist and a psychiatrist at the University of Vienna in Austria, is generally regarded as the first physician to employ ultrasound in medical diagnosis. Baker said that in the 1940s, Dussik and his brother, Freiderich, also a physicist, attempted to locate brain tumors and cerebral ventricles by measuring the transmission of the ultrasound beam through the skull.

It was not until 1950 when the first pregnancy ultrasound was used. It was one of the reasons of assessment for modern embryology. Before it was believed that human formation starts in a miniature form in the womb and simply grows bigger. This was the idea about human formation till 1827 when the idea of a germ phase was introduced. It is interesting to mention that it is documented in the Holy Quran 610 AD the exact four phases of human creation.

This discovery helped also in detection of kidney stones, and some therapeutic purposes such as muscle strain treatment. Ultrasound has a very broad spectrum of applications. It is used in nondestructive testing commonly used to find defects in materials, to measure the thickness of objects, or to find cracks in concrete. It is an essential part of modern manufacturing processes. Modern applications such as fingerprint sensors also use ultrasound. Even in archaeology and tomb discovery as done in Egypt.

At the end, remember that not all what is enclosed has to be opened to know what is inside, “seeing with ultrasound”.


[1] Bruno Pollet Power Ultrasound in Electrochemistry: From Versatile Laboratory Tool to Engineering Solution John Wiley & Sons, 2012 ISBN 1119967864, chapter 1.

[2] Beth W. “Ultrasound History”, Orenstein Radiology Today Vol. 9 No. 24 P. 28, December 1, 2008.

[3] Hearing by Bats (Springer Handbook of Auditory Research, vol. 5. Art Popper and Richard R. Fay (Editors). Springer, 1995

[4] De Felici Massimo; Siracus Gregorio (2000). "The rise of embryology in Italy: from the Renaissance to the early 20th Century".

[5] K. J. Betteridge (1981). "An historical look at embryo transfer" (PDF). Reproduction. the Journal of the Society for Reproduction and Fertility.

[6] BRIAN ROHAN, “Tomb radar: King Tut's burial chamber shows hidden rooms”, Associated Press, Mar. 17, 2016.