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Spring 2013
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Cornell’s CT Imaging facility is extending the boundaries of what’s possible in the realm of 3D non-invasive x-ray CT imaging. The result is a unique blending of advancing science, teaching, and inspiring outreach. From the head of a great white shark to a fruit fly, Cornell’s CT (computed tomography) Imaging facility can non-invasively create spectacular 3D datasets.


Acquired in 2008 and 2011, the GE CT120 and Xradia VERSA XRM-500 machines were the first academic installations of their kind in the United States. They are now situated in the basement of Weill Hall, as part of the Cornell Institute for Biotechnology. These state-of-the-art instruments allow the CT Imaging facility to investigate and explore the diverse landscape of samples from researchers at Cornell and around the world.

According to research engineer and CT Imaging facility director Mark Riccio, many of the studies were previously impractical without the rare and expensive use of a synchrotron, and some were simply impossible without destroying specimens.

The X-rays used to create the data can be set as weak as a medical X-ray for soft tissue, or strong enough to penetrate materials, rocks, and fossils.

“One of the very interesting things we can do with this machine is visualize inside a 300 million-year-old rock fossil of a brachiopod and see inside the structures that were previously unseen,” Riccio said.

The machines can image objects up to 200 mm across, with resolution as fine as 600 nanometers (1/50th the width of a human hair) with objects less than 10 mm in size.

“We either rotate the X-ray source or the sample itself and collect 200-5000 digital images (projections). From this set of two-dimensional data, we mathematically reconstruct the original sample into a three-dimensional matrix of numbers that we can visualize and analyze,” Riccio explained.

“Just as clinical CT scanners have transformed practicing medicine, high-resolution research CT scanners are transforming almost every discipline of research and discovery,” Riccio added. “These machines allows us to answer previously impossible questions. Every day brings a thrilling opportunity to advance science.”