History of ultrasound research at Wisconsin

Advancements in Quantitative Ultrasound: A Scientific Odyssey

Within the academic corridors of the University of Wisconsin, physicist Jim Zagzebski embarked on a rigorous exploration. His mission: to unravel the intricate physics and practical applications of medical ultrasound. Armed with a Bachelor’s degree in physics from St. Mary’s College, Jim delved into uncharted territory. Little did he know that this scientific pilgrimage would significantly impact diagnostic imaging.

Ernie Madsen, joined Jim’s quest.  Together, they forged a path through the complexities of “ultrasound tissue characterization.” Their research spanned dimensions—scattering properties, system performance evaluation, and the complex physics of acoustic scattering.

Graduate students Mitch Goodsitt, Farhad Jafari, and Tom Burke meticulously validated JJ Faran’s scattering theory for solid spheres. Their experiments with stainless steel spheres laid the groundwork for understanding how ultrasound interacts with biological tissues. Bill Davros extended their exploration to spatially distributed glass spheres, while Mike Insana delved into the intricacies of backscatter phenomena.

Tim Hall, an architect of precision, stepped onto the stage. His mission: to bridge the gap between narrowband and broadband pulse-echo systems to fully characterize backscatter from tissue. Evan Boote adapted Tim’s work for clinical imaging systems, bridging theory and practical implementation.

Lin Xin Yao, an astute researcher, recognized the limitations of existing approaches to be implemented in clinical scanners. He introduced the “reference phantom method,” a pragmatic solution allowing simultaneous estimation of broadband attenuation coefficients and backscatter coefficients. The clinical community welcomed this method: it is the basis of several commercial implementations of quantitative ultrasound.

Ernie and Gary Frank orchestrated an interlaboratory comparison of ultrasound tissue characterization methods. Backscatter, attenuation, and speed danced across research groups. Some methods stood firm, while others faltered. The stage was set—a call for reliable techniques echoed through the scientific community.

Tim Hall, now a seasoned investigator, collaborated with Mike Insana at the Radiology Department of the University of Kansas Medical Center. Their quest led them to explore the “effective scatterer diameter,” a metric revealed through the frequency dependence of acoustic scattering. Additionally, they contributed to early developments in strain elastography imaging methods. Hall later joined the UW-Madison Department of Medical Physics in 2003, where he founded and led the Quantitative Ultrasound Lab.

And so, the echoes reverberate—a symphony of waves, a canvas of tissues, and the promise of deeper understanding.


Text and figures provided by Jim Zagzebski and Tim Hall, with a little help of Microsoft Copilot (April 14, 2024).

This website is a live historical record that will benefit from input from the community. If you have stories, figures, and/or photos related to the history of ultrasound research in the Departments of Medical Physics and Radiology at UW-Madison that you’d like to share, please reach out to Ivan Rosado-Mendez at rosadomendez@wisc.