X-ray microtomography, like tomography and X-ray computed tomography, uses X-rays to create cross-sections of a physical object that can be used to recreate a virtual model (3D model) without destroying the original object. The prefix micro- (symbol: µ) is used to indicate that the pixel sizes of the cross-sections are in the micrometre range. These pixel sizes have also resulted in the terms high-resolution X-ray tomography, micro–computed tomography (micro-CT or µCT), and similar terms. Sometimes the terms high-resolution CT (HRCT) and micro-CT are differentiated, but in other cases the term high-resolution micro-CT is used. Virtually all tomography today is computed tomography.
Micro-CT has applications both in medical imaging and in industrial computed tomography. In general, there are two types of scanner setups. In one setup, the X-ray source and detector are typically stationary during the scan while the sample/animal rotates. The second setup, much more like a clinical CT scanner, is gantry based where the animal/specimen is stationary in space while the X-ray tube and detector rotate around. These scanners are typically used for small animals (in vivo scanners), biomedical samples, foods, microfossils, and other studies for which minute detail is desired.
The first X-ray microtomography system was conceived and built by Jim Elliott in the early 1980s. The first published X-ray microtomographic images were reconstructed slices of a small tropical snail, with pixel size about 50 micrometers.
Open X-ray system
In an open system, X-rays may escape or leak out, thus the operator must stay behind a shield, have special protective clothing, or operate the scanner from a distance or a different room. Typical examples of these scanners are the human versions, or designed for big objects.
Closed X-ray system
In a closed system, X-ray shielding is put around the scanner so the operator can put the scanner on a desk or special table. Although the scanner is shielded, care must be taken and the operator usually carries a dosimeter, since X-rays have a tendency to be absorbed by metal and then re-emitted like an antenna. Although a typical scanner will produce a relatively harmless volume of X-rays, repeated scannings in a short timeframe could pose a danger. Digital detectors with small pixel pitches and micro-focus x-ray tubes are usually employed to yield in high resolution images.
Closed systems tend to become very heavy because lead is used to shield the X-rays. Therefore, the smaller scanners only have a small space for samples.
3D image reconstruction
Because microtomography scanners offer isotropic, or near isotropic, resolution, display of images does not need to be restricted to the conventional axial images. Instead, it is possible for a software program to build a volume by 'stacking' the individual slices one on top of the other. The program may then display the volume in an alternative manner.
Image reconstruction software
For X-ray microtomography, powerful open source software is available, such as the ASTRA toolbox. The ASTRA Toolbox is a MATLAB toolbox of high-performance GPU primitives for 2D and 3D tomography, from 2009–2014 developed by iMinds-Vision Lab, University of Antwerp and since 2014 jointly developed by iMinds-VisionLab, UAntwerpen and CWI, Amsterdam. The toolbox supports parallel, fan, and cone beam, with highly flexible source/detector positioning. A large number of reconstruction algorithms are available, including FBP, ART, SIRT, SART, CGLS.
For 3D visualization, tomviz is a popular open-source tool for tomography.
Volume rendering is a technique used to display a 2D projection of a 3D discretely sampled data set, as produced by a microtomography scanner. Usually these are acquired in a regular pattern (e.g., one slice every millimeter) and usually have a regular number of image pixels in a regular pattern. This is an example of a regular volumetric grid, with each volume element, or voxel represented by a single value that is obtained by sampling the immediate area surrounding the voxel.
Where different structures have similar threshold density, it can become impossible to separate them simply by adjusting volume rendering parameters. The solution is called segmentation, a manual or automatic procedure that can remove the unwanted structures from the image.
- Reconstructing fire-damaged artifacts, such as the En-Gedi Scroll and Herculaneum papyri
- Unpacking cuneiform tablets wrapped in clay envelopes and clay tokens
- Both in vitro and in vivo small animal imaging
- Human skin samples
- Bone samples, including teeth, ranging in size from rodents to human biopsies
- Lung imaging using respiratory gating
- Cardiovascular imaging using cardiac gating
- Imaging of the human eye, ocular microstructures and tumors
- Tumor imaging (may require contrast agents)
- Soft tissue imaging
- Parasitology – migration of parasites, parasite morphology
- Tracing the development of the extinct Tasmanian tiger during growth in the pouch
- Model and non-model organisms (elephants, zebrafish, and whales)
- Ceramics and Ceramic–Metal composites. Microstructural analysis and failure investigation
- Composite material with glass fibers 10 to 12 micrometres in diameter
- Detecting defects in a diamond and finding the best way to cut it.
- 3-D imaging of foods using X-ray microtomography
- Analysing heat and drought stress on food crops
- Piece of wood to visualize year periodicity and cell structure
- Concrete after loading
In geology it is used to analyze micro pores in the reservoir rocks, it can used in microfacies analysis for sequence stratigraphy. In petroleum exploration it is used to model the petroleum flow under micro pores and nano particles.
It can give a resolution up to 1 nm.
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- Samples returned from asteroid 25143 Itokawa by the Hayabusa mission
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