Photoacoustic signal generation can be used for a new medical tomographic technique. This makes it possible to image optically different structures, such as the (micro)vascular system in tissues, by use of a transducer array for the detection of laser-generated wide-bandwidth ultrasound. A time-domain delay-and-sum focused beam-forming technique is used to locate the photoacoustic sources in the sample. To characterize the transducer response, simulations have been performed for a wide variety of parameter values and have been verified experimentally. With these data the weight factors for the spectrally and temporally filtered sensor signals are determined in order to optimize the signal-to-noise ratio of the beam former. The imaging algorithm is investigated by simulations and experiments. With this algorithm, for what is to our knowledge the first time, the three-dimensional photoacoustic imaging of complex optically absorbing structures located in a highly diffuse medium is demonstrated. When 200-µm-diameter hydrophone elements are used, the depth resolution is better than 20 µm, and the lateral resolution is better than 200 µm, independent of the depth for our range of imaging (to ∼6 mm). Reduction of the transducer diameters and adaptation of the weight factors, at the cost of some increase of the noise level, will further improve the lateral resolution. The synthetic aperture algorithm used has been shown to be suitable for the new technique of photoacoustic tissue scanning.
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