Updated: Saturday, 25th November 2017 @ 8:08am

Manchester scientists' new 3D X-ray scanner could transform battle against drug smugglers, terrorists and cancer

Manchester scientists' new 3D X-ray scanner could transform battle against drug smugglers, terrorists and cancer

By Phil Jones

The battle against drug smugglers, terrorists and cancer could be boosted by 3D X-ray technology developed at the University of Manchester.

The system, developed by Professor Robert Cernik, produces 3D colour images and can identify compounds such as cocaine and semtex, or abnormal tissue types.

This new technology has potentially huge repercussions for airport security and could help the identification of cancerous tissue.

Professor Cernik, School of Materials, said: “This will more accurately differentiate between normal and abnormal tissue types, reducing misdiagnosis.

“The fact the image can be taken at the same time as using more conventional methods allows for more information to be gathered from biopsy samples.”

Professor Cernik’s technique can identify cocaine, even through a large suitcase, and improves on current techniques of creating 3D images from lots of separate images.

When the technology was first developed five years ago it required the power of a particle accelerator, but it can now be used in a laboratory.

“Now we can achieve the same imaging results with an 80x80 pixel camera that supports real-time hyperspectral X-ray imaging up to very high energies,” he said.

“The fact we can now use this technology in a laboratory setting is a substantial step forward.”

The technology could have other uses in airports, using the extra information gathered to identify stress in fabricated components such as aircraft wings.

In a recent experiment Professor Cernik and colleagues scanned a USB dongle and were able to identify the individual elements and components it consisted of.

“Current imaging systems such as spiral CAT scanners do not use all the information contained in the X-Ray,” added the professor.

“We can use all the wavelengths present to give a colour X-ray image in a number of different imaging geometries.”

He is now seeking industrial partners to collaborate with and refine the technology for specific applications in security, aerospace and medical engineering.

His team is also close to creating the first colour CT scanner, which could dramatically improve diagnosis for a range of conditions.

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