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Milestone in micro-computer tomography

Progress for medicine and material sciences: New X-ray method increases sensitivity and contrast in high-resolution images

Using brilliant X-rays, a cooperative research team has taken micro-computed tomography a big step forward. Dr. Jörg Hammel from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon was part of the research team together with Alex Gustschin and Mirko Riedel, the lead authors of the study and other researchers. The new method improved sensitivity of micro-computer tomography at a higher image resolution. Thus microstructures of the samples can be visualised accurately.

People from left to right: Dr. Felix Beckmann, Dr. Julian Moosmann, Dr. Jörg Hammel, Prof. Dr. Julia Herzen, Mirko Riedel [Copyright: TUM/ René Lahn]

People from left to right: Dr. Felix Beckmann, Dr. Julian Moosmann, Dr. Jörg Hammel, Prof. Dr. Julia Herzen, Mirko Riedel [Copyright: TUM/ René Lahn]

Previously, micro-computer tomography (micro-CT) was especially important to doctors. The procedure is based on X-ray pictures and facilitates an insight in construction and composition of tissue and material samples. Regarding the examination of human soft tissue, such as connective or adipose tissue the new technology is of high relevance. So far, X-rays with phase contrast have been used for this purpose, allowing structures to be mapped more precisely than with conventional X-rays. The micro-CT technology with phase contrast at brilliant X-rays enables significantly improved imaging, as well as detailed depiction of the smallest differences in tissue.

The technology of micro-CT with phase contrast and brilliant X-rays, combined with the specifically developed optical grid called Talbot Array Illuminator and its optimised evaluation software, enables significantly advanced imaging as well as detailed imaging of the smallest differences in tissue.

"New optical grids work similarly like small lenses. They focus the X-ray light into tiny points. As a result, differences in intensity are more distinct with and without a sample", explains Prof. Herzen, a lead researcher of the study from TU Munich. The result is a high contrast, with good resolution and increased sensitivity, compared to previous X-ray methods. Sensitivity is an important factor in the ability to see subtleties within the human soft tissue. Additionally, the radiation dose is used more efficiently and the exposure time is reduced in the new method.

New prospects for biology, medicine and material sciences

The developed method is also appealing for the material sciences, as it opens up investigation possibilities for a variety of samples.
"Researchers can even use it to visualise materials with extremely different compositions. For example water and oil trapped in stone can all be seen at the same time, which was not possible with conventional methods so far," says the press release from the Technische Universität München (TUM).

Researchers from the Technical University of Munich led the study in collaboration with the Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon, the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY (Helmholtz Association), the University of Trieste (Italy) and the University of Sheffield (UK).

The text is derived from the press release of the Technische Universität München (TUM).

Further Information


  • Press release of the Technische Universität München
  • Original publication Alex Gustschin, Mirko Riedel, Kirsten Taphorn, Christian Petrich, Wolfgang Gottwald, Wolfgang Noichl, Madleen Busse, Sheila E. Francis, Felix Beckmann, Jörg U. Hammel, Julian Moosmann, Pierre Thibault, and Julia Herzen, "High-resolution and sensitivity bi-directional x-ray phase contrast imaging using 2D Talbot array illuminators," Optica 8, 1588-1595 (2021)

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Institute of Materials Research, Materials Physics, Dept. "X-ray Imaging with Synchrotron Radiation“
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