Science & Health

Australia's Top 10 Inventions: Ultrasound

To celebrate Australia Day this week, we’re looking at some of the best inventions to ever come out of our sunburnt country. Today, we pay homage to David Robinson and George Kossoff, who helped give every expecting parent the joy of being able to see their unborn child through the wonder of Ultrasound.

Back in the 1950s, doctors were beginning to grow concerned about the effect of taking X-rays on pregnant women to determine the health of their babies. In 1961 David Robinson and George Kossoff, working at the Ultrasonic Research Group of the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories, built Australia’s first ultrasound scanner, called the CAL Echoscope. While others had used the same ultrasound technology for similar purposes around the globe, it was discovered in 1962 that the results from the Australian version – called grey-scale ultrasound – were technically superior to other scanners, as well as being the first commercially practical option.

According to this (PDF) history of Australian ultrasound by Kaye A Griffiths, the machine worked like this:

It consisted of a trolley running on a circular track, and per- formed compound scan motions, arc sector in the horizontal plane and linear sector in the vertical plane, through a water bath. The transducer was a 2.5MHz, 25 mm weakly focused disc. The original electronics were built entirely of vacuum tubes, and used a Hughes Tonotron storage tube for image display. The patient stood on an angled stretcher and her abdomen was brought into contact with the flexible window on the wall of the coupling tank

In the years that followed the pair continued to develop the field of ultrasound obstetrics, including leading the charge in discovering just how much ultrasound would be used to detect fetal malformations. They completely changed the way medicine used ultrasound technology around the world. As any parent who’s watched the heartbeat of their unborn child on a monitor can attest, their invention is definitely one of the country’s best.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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