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X-ray Scanning Machine Helps to Find Cancer

Engineers demonstrated a prototype X-ray scanning machine that discloses not just the shape of an object but its molecular composition. With remarkable resolution and accuracy, the technology could revolutionize a wide range of fields such as cancer surgery, pathology, drug inspection and geology.

The research was published in the journal Science.Many of the ideas behind the prototype were originally conceived in the pursuit of performing better bomb detection for aviation security. Researchers adapted the technology for several targeted scientific and medical applications.Joel Greenberg, associate research professor of electrical and computer engineering and faculty of the medical physics program said that when you’re trying to spot a bomb in a bag or a tumor in a body, the physics is more or less the same. From an engineering point of view, the constraints on the two are very different. We built this smaller, higher-resolution device to demonstrate that our approach could be used for several different applications.

The technology is a hybrid X-ray system that combines conventional X-ray transmission radiography with rays diffraction tomography. This involves measuring the rays that pass straight through an object. This involves collecting deflection angle and wavelength information from rays that have scattered off of an object, which provide a sort of fingerprint unique to that material’s atomic structure.

One of the hurdles to adopting this technology is that the scattered X-ray signal is typically very weak and complex. This results in very few rays reaching the detector with each image captured, which leads to long delays while the scanner gathers enough data for the job at hand. This allows the researchers to gather enough deflected rays to ID the material in a shorter period.The researchers developed a method for creating high-quality, 3-D coded apertures, designed a new machine end-to-end with a user interface and compact footprint, and built a prototype using off-the-shelf components used in medical imaging.

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