Characterizing Viscoelastic Polyvinyl Alcohol Phantoms for Ultrasound Elastography


      Ultrasound phantoms mimic the acoustic and mechanical properties of native tissues. Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) phantoms are used extensively as models for validating ultrasound elastography approaches. However, the viscous properties of PVA phantoms have not been investigated adequately. Glycerol is a viscous liquid that has been reported to increase the speed of sound of phantoms. This study aims to assess the acoustic and viscoelastic properties of PVA phantoms and PVA mixed with glycerol at varying concentrations. The phantoms were fabricated with 10% w/v PVA in water with varying concentrations of glycerol (10%, 15% and 20% v/v) and 2% w/v silicon carbide particles as acoustic scatterers. The phantoms were subjected to either one, two, or three 24-h freeze–thaw cycles. The longitudinal sound speeds of all PVA phantoms were measured, and ranged from 1529 to 1660 m/s. Attenuation spectroscopy was performed in the range of 5 to 20 MHz. The measured attenuation followed a power-law relationship with frequency, wherein the power-law fit constants and exponents ranged from 0.02 to 0.1 dB/cm/MHzn and from 1.6 to 1.9, respectively. These results were in agreement with previous reports for soft tissues. Viscoelasticity of PVA phantoms was assessed using rheometry. The estimated values of shear modulus and viscosity using the Kelvin–Voigt and Kelvin–Voigt fractional derivative models were within the range of previously-reported tissue-mimicking phantoms and soft tissues. The number of freeze-thaw cycles were shown to alter the viscosity of PVA phantoms, even in the absence of glycerol. Scanning electron microscopy images of PVA phantoms without glycerol showed a porous hydrogel network, in contrast to those of PVA-glycerol phantoms with non-porous structure. Phantoms fabricated in this study possess tunable acoustic and viscoelastic properties within the range reported for healthy and diseased soft tissues. This study demonstrates that PVA phantoms can be manufactured with glycerol for applications in ultrasound elastography.

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