Reported April 2007
BALTIMORE (Ivanhoe Broadcast News) -- The roar of a fire truck ... the whine of ambulance sirens ... MedEVAC helicopters overhead. They're first at an accident scene, but they're also loud -- making some emergencies too noisy for paramedics and doctors to listen to a patient's vital signs with a stethoscope.
"You can't hear lung sounds. You can't hear heart sounds inside of a running helicopter," Donald Lehman, a flight paramedic with the Maryland State Police in Pikesville, tells Ivanhoe.
William Bernhard, M.D., an anesthesiologist and Master Flight Surgeon with the U.S. Army in Perryville, Md., says traditional stethoscopes do not work well because of all the outside noise that interferes with the sounds they're trying to listen to. Now a new, ultrasound stethoscope ignores outside noise, allowing medics to hear life-saving sounds inside the body.
"It's extremely helpful because it's the only thing out there on the market that will work," Dr. Bernhard tells Ivanhoe.
Developed by electrical engineers, the device sends an ultrasound wave into the body. When it hits moving organs -- like the heart or lungs -- it bounces back at a different frequency, called the Doppler effect. This change in frequency is converted into sound that medics can hear.
"The exciting thing now is that we have a simple, hand-held device and can be used in these very high noise environments and gives a very, very clean, audible signal," Electrical Engineer Adrian Houtsma, Ph.D. of the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory (USAARL), tells Ivanhoe.
The new device is being field tested for the Army, where loud war zones make a standard stethoscope useless ... helping save lives one sound at a time.
Researchers like Dr. Houtsma are in the process of obtaining FDA approval for the device and are working to make sure it doesn't generate signals that interfere with aircraft or other equipment. It will first be manufactured to sell to the armed forces and could cost between $250 and $700.
The traditional stethoscope has hardly changed since its invention in the 1800s by French inventor and physician René Théophile Hyacinthe Laënnec.
The Acoustical Society of America contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:
Adrianus J.M. Houtsma, Ph.D.
US Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory
Fort Rucker, AL
Acoustical Society of America
Melville, NY 11747-4502
Finding a Whatchamacallit on the Web
This Month's TV Reports
The new visual search engine VizSeek uses a photo, 2-D or a 3-D image to help you find the perfect, hard-to-describe part or tool.
Home Makeover 101
Homeowners doing speedy repairs or hurried remodel jobs on their own need to be aware of the dangers of "weekend warrior" projects.
Making Movies: How'd They do That?
See the new type of animation that brought to life the characters in "Polar Express," "The Lord of Rings" and "Happy Feet."
Weight Loss Weapon!
One little pill could help you shed those dangerous pounds and live a healthier life.
Balloons Tracking Storms and Saving Lives
Making weather forecasts more accurate, predicting hurricanes better, and showing the track of the storm faster.
Save hundreds of dollars in insurance premiums if you implement these ideas to hurricane-proof your home.
Cleaning up CO2
Global warming's effects can be seen worldwide, but engineers have found a natural way to eliminate one of the worst contributors to the environment's decay.
Will Your Cancer Spread?
Eye cancer is a serious disease that affects about 2,000 Americans each year. Roughly half of patients will die from the cancer, but now a simple test tells patients how dangerous their cancer really is.
Bend it, stretch it, crumple it up ... This amazing new material won't break and it's electric!
Emergency vehicles race to accident scenes, but noise can make listening to heartbeats and lungs impossible to hear ... Until now.
Little Shop of Physics
Combs, cones, smoke and mirrors combined with scientific concepts show students that learning physics can be fun.
From rainforests to sharks, how do over 16,000 different animals live together under one roof? Go behind-the-scenes at the National "ZooArium" in Baltimore.