Thin-layered structures containing arrays of micromachined horns, denoted solid micro-horn arrays (SMIHAs), have been conceived as improved means of matching acoustic impedances between ultrasonic transducers and the media with which the transducers are required to exchange acoustic energy. Typically, ultrasonic transducers (e.g., those used in medical imaging) are piezoelectric or similar devices, which produce small displacements at large stresses. However, larger displacements at smaller stresses are required in the target media (e.g., human tissues) with which acoustic energy is to be exchanged. Heretofore, efficiencies in transmission of acoustic energy between ultrasonic transducers and target media have been severely limited because substantial mismatches of acoustic impedances have remained, even when coupling material layers have been interposed between the transducers and the target media. In contrast, SMIHAs can, in principle, be designed to effect more nearly complete acoustic impedance matching, leading to power-transmission efficiencies of 90 percent or even greater.
The SMIHA concept is based on extension, into the higher-frequency/lower-wavelength ultrasonic range, of the use of horns to match acoustic impedances in the audible and lower-frequency ultrasonic ranges. In matching acoustic impedance in transmission from a higher-impedance acoustic source (e.g., a piezoelectric transducer) and a lower-impedance target medium (e.g., air or human tissue), a horn acts as a mechanical amplifier. The shape and size of the horn can be optimized for matching acoustic impedance in a specified frequency range.
A typical SMIHA would consist of a base plate, a face plate, and an array of horns that would constitute pillars that connect the two plates (see figure). In use, the base plate would be connected to an ultrasonic transducer and the face plate would be placed in contact with the target medium. As at lower frequencies, the sizes and shapes of the pillars could be tailored for impedance matching in a specified ultrasonic frequency range. In a design that would be simplest to implement by micromachining, the horns would have constant cross-sectional areas as shown in the upper part of the figure. In this case, the dimensions of the horns could be chosen on the basis of a Mason equivalent-circuit model (a simplified model, well-known in the piezoelectric-transducer art, in which the electrical and mechanical dynamics, including electromechanical couplings, are expressed as electrical circuit elements that can include inductors, capacitors, and lumped-parameter complex impedances.) In a more complex, more nearly optimum design, the cross-sectional area of each horn would be either stepped or made to vary as a continuous function of through-the-thickness position, as shown in the lower part of the figure.