Crystals make it clearer

The Crystal Consortium has won a £75,000 SPUR award to develop a piezoelectric crystal which will help to produce significantly clearer pictures of babies in the womb.

The Glasgow-based company is working on a crystal which replaces ceramic in high-end acoustic transducers used in pre-natal and organ ultrasound scans, as well as sonar, underwater communications, and non-destructive testing.

‘The crystal will be more efficient than ceramics in medical transducers, allowing ultrasound scanners to produce higher resolution pictures. It will also be able to pick up images from fatty or muscular areas of the body, giving clearer images of internal organs such as kidneys,’ said Stephen-Mark Williams, Sales and Marketing Director of TCC.

He estimates that the total worldwide medical market value for the crystal could be in the region of £10m within five years. However, there is another important potential application for the crystal – in the sonar industry.

‘The crystal will be used in sonar which is employed in the oil and gas industry and non-destructive testing. Improvements in capability could potentially double the range of existing sonar on the market,’ he added.

The SPUR award follows on from a two-year SMART award and takes the total TCC investment in developing the new crystal to over £200,000. Williams expects the crystal to be ready by 2006.

The project is an unusual one for The Crystal Consortium – which was spun-out from the crystal growth research groups at the ORMC (Optical Materials Research Centre) of the Applied Physics Department of Strathclyde University — as it usually develops crystals to order for clients.

It currently has clients across the globe and orders for next year are in the region of £550,000.