3D X-Ray Images Get Closer to Reality

Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and several Russian colleagues have made significant strides toward coherent, three-dimensional x-rays that could lead to real-time three dimensional medical imaging. The scientists focus an optical laser into concentrations of gas, causing them to emit x-rays. Previously such emissions were too weak to be used in practice, but the Lincoln experiments have produced significantly higher intensity output than previous attempts at this type of x-ray creation.
 Professor Anthony Starace (Credit: University of Nebraska - Lincoln)
Professor Anthony Starace
(Credit: UNL)

Called high-harmonic generation (HHG), x-rays have been created by focusing optical lasers on gases since 1988. The light from the laser beam interacts with the free electrons in the gas to form the x-rays. Past experiments have primarily used common gases with small numbers of free electrons, often hydrogen, helium, or neon. The scientists have previously tried to increase the intensity of the output by increasing the wavelength of the incoming laser beam but have accomplished little success.

The Lincoln research team, led by Professor Anthony Starace, also adjusted the wavelength of the projected laser beam to increase the strength of omitted x-rays, but instead of using gases with only a few free electrons per atom, they tried HHG techniques with rarer heavier gases including xenon, argon, and krypton. In addition to generating stronger x-rays, the intensity of the x-rays produced remained strong for significantly longer periods of time than those possible with the previously used gases. In fact, the results approach those necessary for practical applications.

Once refined, these techniques could lead to new x-ray machines capable of generating real-time three dimensional images. This could allow doctors to view models of individual patients’ internal systems at work and observe things like abnormal heart beats or the movement of injured muscles. Instead of considering tests that rely on statistical norms which may or may not be accurate for specific patients, doctors could examine precisely what’s happening within each patient in a non-invasive way.

These techniques could also be used to create larger-than-life models of various types of nanostructures, making complex microscopic machines easier to see and manipulate.

TFOT has previously reported on other innovative medical imaging technologies including new microscopic magnets which can colorize MRI scans and customize the types of cells focused on during the scans, a method for transmitting simplified medical scans over cellular phone networks, a camera pill controlled by magnets, and an ultra-low intensity MRI scanner safe for use on brain tissue.

Read more about this new real-time x-ray imaging technique in this University of Nebraska-Lincoln press release.

Icon image credit: Pennsylvania State University

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