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Innovation

A microscope creating 3-D images

A microscope built in the UK is the first in the world to produce 3-D internal pictures of objects. This microscope combines two techniques, X-ray microtomography -- which produces 3-D images from a large set of 2-D images -- and time delay integration -- which generates better images than other microscopes.
Written by Roland Piquepaille, Inactive on

A microscope built in the UK is the first in the world to produce 3-D internal pictures of objects. This microscope combines two techniques, X-ray microtomography -- which produces 3-D images from a large set of 2-D images -- and time delay integration -- which generates better images than other microscopes. Today, this microscope has been used to study osteoporosis or tooth decay. But it will soon be used for designing better construction materials and to improve oil extraction methods. Read more...

Below is a picture of the new microscope: "the X-ray generator is on the left, the specimen for examination is in the middle and the lead-lined camera is on the right" (Credit: EPSRC)

The new 3-dimensional microscope

Here are some details on how this new microscope works.

Like a number of other microscopes, the new microscope harnesses X-rays to provide information about an object's internal structure down to micron scale. (A micron is a millionth of a metre.) What makes it unique, however, is its innovative use of a technique called 'time delay integration', which enables it to generate much better images of larger objects than any other device. This means that microscopic structure can be studied with greater accuracy.
X-ray microscopes can produce 3-d internal pictures of an object by taking a large number of 2-d images from different angles – this is known as X-ray microtomography. However, the new microscope’s combining of this technique with time delay integration is completely unique. Through averaging out imperfections in the image across all pixels, this approach enables the microscope to produce clearer and bigger pictures than previously possible.

Here is an example. On this picture, you can see a "computer-enhanced image of viverravus acutus jaw constructed from data produced by the new microscope" (Credit: EPSRC, via this page at ScienceDaily).

A computer-enhanced image of a jaw

So far, this microscope is used for research. And some of its most promising applications include to find how bone and tooth tissue behave in conditions such as osteoporosis or to study "fossils embedded in rocks without having to remove and risk damaging them."

Sources: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) news release, via EurekAlert!, May 2, 2006; and various web sites

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