Ultrasonic Imaging by Reconstructive Tomography

  • Glen Wade
Part of the Acoustical Imaging book series (ACIM, volume 9)


The recent development of X-ray computer reconstructive tomography has brought about a revolution in radiology. It has given the practicing physician a new degree of access to what is going on inside a patient’s body. The computer has become an important factor for implementing diagnostic techniques in the major hospitals of the world. In recognition of this fact, G.N. Hounsfield and A.M. Cormack were made co-recipients of the 1979 Nobel Award in physiology and medicine.

In conventional radiology, X rays diverge from a single source to project onto film a shadowgraph of the structure along the paths of the rays. But structural elements, cleanly separated in the three-dimensional object, often overlap in the final two-dimensional image in such a way as to make them hard to distinguish. This is particularly true of structural elements of similar density.

In reconstructive tomography there is no overlap. An image is computed from a large number of projections. The image has the form of a two-dimensional mapping of the discrete non-overlapping structural elements in a single plane of the body. Ordinary X-ray technology is combined with sophisticated computer processing to make this possible.

The X-ray source and detector move around the body, and in effect, hundreds of X-ray pictures are made. Instead of being recorded on film, the information is sent to a computer to be processed by it in making a tomogram. With this approach it is possible in principle to obtain the image of any cross section within the body. The technique has proven to be invaluable for the diagnosis of brain tumors and many other pathologies.

However, it has one disadvantage: it is invasive. It depends on ionizing radiation. Too much exposure to X rays will harm the patient.

But X rays are not the only kind of radiation for which reconstructive tomography is feasible. Microwaves, electron beams, ultrasound, fast subatomic particles from accelerators, gamma rays from such sources are positron annihilation, and even magnetic fields can be used. Ultrasound is particularly attractive in reconstructive tomography, and that is what this paper is all about.

Acoustic energy can often give a view of a cross section not available with X rays or other types of radiation. A mapping of acoustic and elastic variations can be expected to provide a basically different pattern than a mapping of variations in X-ray absorption and scattering coefficients. In addition, a mapping of one kind of acoustic parameter will yield quite a different picture than that of another. So far, two acoustic parameters have received the most attention in research: acoustic attenuation and acoustic refractive index. Mappings of variations in either parameter require transmitting the ultrasound through the object. But ultrasound can also be reflected from objects. Inhomogeneities within an object provide echoes and research is going on to produce mappings of variations in ultrasonic reflection. Thus, computer-assisted acoustic-echo tomography is being examined and also tomographic extensions of Doppler processing.

In reconstructive tomography it is essential to know the paths taken by the rays in going from source to detector. With X rays the paths are all essentially straight and therefore easy to take into account. This is not the case with ultrasound. When an ultrasonic beam propagates through an object, it undergoes deflection (refraction and reflection) at almost every interface between regions of different refractive index. Diffraction of the acoustic waves also occurs. Because of the wavelength differences between X rays and ultrasound, diffraction is far more important for ultrasound than for X rays. Thus refraction, reflection and diffraction are special problems peculiar to ultrasonic reconstructive tomography.


Residual Stress Reconstructive Tomography Velocity Variation Ultrasonic Imaging Computer Assisted Tomography 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Glen Wade
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Electrical & Computer EngineeringUniversity of California at Santa BarbaraUSA

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