The image of the ultrasound pregnancy scan, or sonogram, is iconic. That familiar wedge shape and grainy image is often the first view expectant parents get of their child. But there’s more to ultrasound than prenatal sonography. Besides this important first look, there are alternative uses for ultrasound in everyday life.
Sitting in the waiting room, you may have asked yourself “what is an ultrasound, anyway?” In layman’s terms, ultrasound is simply any sound wave whose frequency lies beyond the upper limit of human hearing—the higher the frequency, the higher the pitch. This includes everything from your dog whistle to a submarine’s sonar system.
Dogs evolved to have a higher range of hearing than we do. This means they will react to a high-pitched noise that humans cannot perceive. This way, they react to a shrill noise the same way we would, without us having to hear it. Dog whistles are perhaps the simplest use of ultrasound in our lives: there’s no high-tech device here, just a small tube and your breath. But this small whistle is indeed instrumental in training your dog.
Ultrasound has promising medical applications outside the doctor’s office, too. Targeted ultrasound waves can be used for everyday pain management by stimulating tissue, or in some cases, precisely calming a nerve that is causing debilitating pain. Users can even manage their own pain with a small handheld device. This replaces the need for medication or invasive surgery.
If there’s one thing mosquitoes fear, it’s the dragonfly that eats mosquitoes by the score every day. Mosquitoes’ fear of humans, however, is much lower, which is why we’ve learned to fool them with gadgets that mimic the rapid high-pitched clicking sound that dragonflies emit. These devices are especially helpful to fishing enthusiasts, who sometimes find that the only bites they get are bug bites.
Industrial Quality Control
Many of the cars on the road owe their seals of approval to ultrasound testing. Manufacturers use sound-emitting probes to locate tiny but critical flaws in automotive components. Identifying small problems in the assembly process before they become big problems on the road keeps drivers safe and keeps cars out of the shop.
Sonar for Fishing
After it was developed for naval warfare in World War II, sound navigation ranging, or sonar, has found use in fishing fleets to detect not submarines, but schools of fish. Ultrasound waves travel through the air found in the swim bladders of fish as well as the water, and recording this difference allows fishermen to make their catches. The next time you enjoy Icelandic cod, thank sonar and one of the most advanced alternative uses for ultrasound in everyday life.