3-D X-rays: From Particle Physics to the Courtroom

on Nov 14, 2018

   A new technology finds an unexpected use


For hundreds of years humanity has been using scientific research to create commercial products. Penicillin was created by accident in a laboratory, then was quickly adapted for use in medicine. The adhesive on a Post-it note was the product of a failed scientific experiment, but was quickly commercialized into the product it is today. There have been thousands of spinoff technologies to come out of NASA. Modern science is no different, and today we are constantly finding ways to incorporate this scientific research into our everyday lives.


In 1998, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) began developing a massive particle accelerator outside of Geneva. This became known as the Large Hadron Collider, it’s purpose is to help answer some of the fundamental questions in physics by accelerating particles to a rate approaching the speed of light, smashing them together, and recording the results.


In order to record these collisions CERN developed a number of chips that can detect individual particles, similar to the way that a chip in a digital camera might detect light. Although these sensors were originally developed for the Large Hadron Collider, scientists quickly realized this technology could be commercialized and used in medical imaging, and the Medipix chip was born.


A traditional x-ray can have trouble differentiating between two different tissues of similar densities, and therefore it can be an imperfect diagnostic tool. The Medipix chip has a much higher sensitivity than a traditional x-ray, and uses x-ray photons of varying energy levels. Each energy level reacts differently to each specific tissue type, and a series of 3-D images are created, one for each type of tissue. Each image is given a color (yellow for fat, red for muscle, etc.) and combined into a single multi-color, high-resolution 3-D image. The result is an image with unprecedented color, clarity and accuracy.