Novel Nano-CT device can create 3D-x-rays of very small objects


While Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, the technology so far has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. A team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) - among them Prof. Franz Pfeiffer who is Director of the Munich School of BioEngineering (MSB), TUM Professor for Biomedical Physics and an Alumni Carl von Linde Senior Fellow at the TUM Institute for Advanced Study – now successfully tested a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first practical test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm (Onychophora), which can be thought of a worm with legs and is closely related to arthropods.

The TUM Nano-CT system, which was developed and installed at the MSB, is based on a newly developed x-ray source, generating a particularly focused beam without relying on x-ray optics. Combined with an extremely low-noise detector, the device produces images that approach the resolution possible with a scanning electron microscope, while also capturing structures under the surface of the object under investigation. The Nano-CT images make it possible to investigate the functional anatomy of the tiny, 0.4 millimeter long legs of the velvet worm, thereby playing a key role in determining how the segmented limbs of the arthropods evolved.

“Our goal in the development of the Nano-CT system is not only to be able to investigate biological samples, such as the leg of the velvet worm,” says Prof. Franz Pfeiffer. “In the future, this technology will also make biomedical investigations possible. Thus, for example, we will be able to examine tissue samples to clarify whether or not a tumor is malignant.”

You can find the full press release here.


M. Müller, I. de Sena Oliveira, S. Allner, S. Ferstl, P. Bidola, K. Mechlem, A. Fehringer, L. Hehn, M. Dierolf, K. Achterhold, B. Gleich, J. U. Hammel, H. Jahn, G. Mayer, F. Pfeiffer. “Myoanatomy of the velvet worm leg revealed by laboratory-based nanofocus X-ray source tomography”, PNAS (2017); DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1710742114