Camera promises improved 3D colour X-Ray imaging

Scientists at the University of Manchester have developed a camera that can be used to take powerful 3D colour X-ray images, in near real time, without the need for a synchrotron X-ray source.

The device's ability to identify the composition of the scanned object could radically improve security screening at airports, medical imaging, aircraft maintenance, industrial inspection and geophysical exploration, the researchers say. Developed by Professor Robert Cernik and colleagues from the university's School of Materials, the X-ray system is designed to identify chemicals and compounds such as cocaine, semtex, precious metals or radioactive materials, even when they're contained inside a relatively large object like a suitcase. The method could also be extended to detect strain in fabricated components, for example in aircraft wings. Prof Cernik commented: "Current imaging systems such as spiral CAT scanners do not use all the information contained in the X-ray beam. We can use all the wavelengths present to give a colour X-ray image in a number of different imaging geometries. "This method is often called hyperspectral imaging because it gives extra information about the material structure at each voxel (3D equivalent of a pixel) of the 3D image. This extra information can be used to fingerprint the material present at each point in a 3D image." As well as providing more information about the object being X-rayed, Cernik says this new technique also decreases the time it takes to create a 3D image. Rather than building up lots of separate images (mapping), the new system creates the image in one simple scanning motion which only takes a few minutes. This has implications for using the X-ray system for medical purposes, as Professor Cernik explains: "The fact the image can be taken at the same time as using more conventional methods and on the same timescale means more information can be gathered from biopsy samples. This will more accurately differentiate between normal and abnormal tissue types reducing mis-diagnosis."