CBC Nova Scotia: Dalhousie graduate wins $15K grant for ultrasound technology research

A Dalhousie graduate student will be recognized Tuesday night in Ottawa for discovering a more efficient way to build therapeutic ultrasound equipment.

For his university masters thesis research, 27-year-old Hugo Vihvelin was focused on miniaturizing the electronics in implanted devices like hearing aids.

“There are advantages for cosmetic purposes and then there are also advantages on the implant side. Whenever you can make something smaller you can implant it in an increased number of locations,” Vihvelin told CBC News.

The challenge was maximizing the efficiency in the electronic circuitry. Vihvelin achieved that by replacing silicon transistors with ones made of a new compound called gallium nitride.

Vihvelin just defended his masters thesis a week and a half ago. 

A ‘huge’ internship grant

To pursue other uses for his research, Vihvelin got a $15,000 tax-free, four-month internship grant from Mitacs — a national non-profit organization that funds the commercialization of graduate student research.

The internship was at Daxsonics Ultrasound, a Halifax startup company run by Rob Adamson, his academic supervisor at the Dalhousie School of Biomedical Engineering. Daxsonics makes therapeutic high-frequency ultrasound devices.

The ultrasound probes or patches used to treat soft tissue injuries such as tendonitis and muscle spasms.

Adamson says Vihvelin’s idea to switch from silicon transistors also improves the efficiency of ultrasounds.

“It turns out silicon becomes fairly inefficient when you get at the high frequencies used by ultrasounds,” he said. “This new transistor material lets you maintain high efficiency out to high frequency in.”

The new material is the first time it’s been used in ultrasound applications, he said.

“This was the first application, it probably won’t be the last.” 

‘It led to a full-time job’

On Tuesday, Vihvelin will receive $500 and an outstanding innovation award from Mitacs. The real value, he says, was a chance to prove himself while receiving financial support.

“For me it was the opportunity to show my graduate level skills had direct applications to industry. It’s actually led to a full-time job for me with Daxsonics which I’m ecstatic about,” Vihvelin said.

Adamson says Daxsonics is already incorporating the technology in a product for a U.S. client.

“I think its going to become part of our core competency from here on,” he said. 

“This is one which we can bring to improve a lot of existing high frequency ultrasound devices that are out there already or new companies that are contemplating bringing devices out this makes those devices better.”


Paul Withers, CBC News