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Left: Surface of the velvet worm's leg.
Right: A view inside the tissue with
muscle fibers highlighted.

Researchers develop CT system for imaging extremely small objects

by Lauren Dubinsky , Senior Reporter
Historically, CT has not been used to image extremely small objects, but a team at the Technical University of Munich has developed a new CT technology that may change that.

The Nano-CT system is capable of generating 3-D X-ray images at resolutions of up to 100 nanometers.

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Images with this high degree of resolution usually require radiation from particle accelerators, but only a few dozen facilities equipped with that technology are in operation in Europe. A typical laboratory either has to deal with low-resolution images or make sure the samples being examined are made with a certain material and don’t exceed a specific size.

That’s because standard CT scanners leverage X-ray optics to focus X-ray radiation, which involves several limitations. The Nano-CT system is based on a new type of X-ray source that generates an especially focused beam without requiring the use of X-ray optics.

The new system is equipped with an extremely low-noise detector. It can generate images that are similar in resolution to those produced by an electron microscope, and also capture structures under the surface of the sample under analysis.

"Our system has decisive advantages compared to CTs using X-ray optics," Mark Müller, lead author of an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,, said in a statement. "We can make tomographies of significantly larger samples and we are more flexible in terms of the materials that can be investigated."

The Nano-CT could have major implications in the field of medicine — making biomedical investigations possible. In the future, it could allow scientists to examine tissue samples to determine whether a tumor is cancerous.

In addition, the nondestructive, high-resolution 3-D images that the Nano-CT produces can provide new insights into the development of widespread illnesses like cancer on a microscopic level.

The system is currently installed at the TUM’s Munich School of BioEngineering. To date, the research team has imaged a velvet worm, which ranges from one to 20 centimeters, and were able to view the individual muscle strands of its leg.

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