Professor Song Receives $1 Million NSF Partnerships for Innovation Grant to Commercialize Ultrafast 3D Ultrasound Imaging


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Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Assistant Professor Pengfei Song led team has received $1 million Partnerships for Innovation-Research Partnerships (PFI-RP) funding from the National Science Foundation to further the commercialization efforts of a novel University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign technology that addresses the technical limitations of 2D ultrasound imaging by developing innovative ultrafast 3D ultrasound technologies.

The research objective of this PFI-RP project is to conduct applied research to fill the knowledge gaps and address technical challenges of the 3D imaging technique, making this technology ready to be transferred to the commercial ultrasound market. Successful completion of this project will culminate in a commercially viable 3D imaging technology that is poised for immediate commercialization.

Professor Song is affiliated with the Beckman Institute, the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, the Neuroscience Program, the Cancer Center at Illinois, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, and the Department of Bioengineering besides ECE. The NSF PFI-RP grant team includes Technology Entrepreneur Center (TEC) Executive Director and Assistant Dean for Innovation & Entrepreneurship Jed Taylor, Texas A&M University ECE Professor Jun Zou, and Verasonics (research ultrasound company) CEO Jon Daigle.

Pengfei Song. Photo Credit: Jenna Kurtzweil 
Pengfei Song. Photo by Jenna Kurtzweil 

The research work presents a highly practical and cost-effective solution to democratize ultrafast 3D ultrasound imaging because it instantly converts existing 2D ultrafast ultrasound imaging systems into 3D-capable devices, making a broad and direct impact on basic research and patient care globally. The project particularly aims to make the technology accessible to under-resourced, underserved, and low-income communities that are more likely to have negative medical experiences. 

In addition, the technology will provide a viable 3D imaging solution for the ultraportable pocket ultrasound devices that are becoming increasingly popular. The technique also provides the research community with new 3D imaging capabilities to probe the structure and function of deep tissues noninvasively and holistically in vivo, facilitating new discoveries and the development of new therapies.

Professor Song says, “For the proposed aims in this PFI award, we have established strong and unique industrial partnerships with leading ultrasound companies. These partnerships will provide invaluable resources, expertise, and guidance for commercialization of our ultrafast 3D ultrasound imaging technology. In addition to our industrial partners, our application is also strengthened by research partnerships with the Zou Lab at the Texas A&M University and entrepreneurial education partnerships with TEC at UIUC. These partnerships and support are essential for navigating the complex path from research and development to starting a technology as a university spin-off. Furthermore, these partnerships are vital for our future Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program applications beyond NSF-PFI.”

As part of this grant, all graduate students who are a part of the NSF project will get an opportunity to participate in TEC’s entrepreneurial training programs and take TE courses to develop educational and leadership development skills. All students will go through the customer discovery process and develop skills in identifying value propositions, customer segments, and ensure that the product meets the needs of stakeholders.

“We will also actively engage with EnterpriseWorks Incubator at the Research Park at the University of Illinois to develop entrepreneurial skills. Specifically, we will work with the FAST (Federal and State Technology) Partnership Center to develop future SBIR/STTR proposals for the ultrafast 3D ultrasound imaging technology. We will leverage the Expert-in-Residence program to work with UIUC faculty members to gain knowledge in technology commercialization, team development, increasing diversity in the workplace, customer discovery, and business strategy,” adds Song.


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This story was published October 24, 2023.