A new machine at the University of Colorado Boulder will allow researchers to see materials in 4D.
The ZEISS Xradia 520 Versa is an X-ray microtomography imaging system — essentially an X-ray microscope, according to Wil Srubar, an assistant professor who was part of the team that won a grant to buy the machine.
The Xradia lets researchers see through materials without “crack(ing) the egg,” Srubar said, allowing them to see right through it. It also lets them view materials in 3D, with time as the fourth dimension.
“This is really a gold-standard imaging instrument, and we think it’s going to enable a lot of new, cool science and education and really good outreach as well,” he said.
Srubar won a $1 million National Science Foundation grant with his colleagues associate professor Virginia Ferguson, assistant professor Mija Hubler, and professors Robert McLeod and Stephanie Bryant. CU Boulder paid 20% of the $1 million cost of the machine, as required by the grant.
Very few models of this machine exist, Srubar said, so they intend to use it as a resource for the Rocky Mountain area. While similar systems exist in the area, they are much older and can only handle small samples. External researchers can request access online and it will cost about $50 to a few hundred dollars per sample to use, he said.
Researchers in a variety of disciplines will get use out of the machine. For example, Ferguson, a biomedical associate professor, has already used it to study how 3D printed materials for cartilage and tissue regeneration treat injuries of the pediatric growth plate.
“With this tool we were able to perform visualizations for bio-projects without having to cut them open — or destroy them by slicing them and staining them to look at the cells for example,” Ferguson said in a news release.
Researchers also can look at “hard materials,” such as bone samples, Srubar said. Archaeologists can use it to look inside of bone samples without damaging them, revealing important evolutionary information.
Srubar said they’re planning to teach about the machine to students through specific course modules and advanced trainings where students can assist researchers and become “super users.” There are currently about five super users who can use the machine unassisted.
They also plan to have information sessions for the broader CU Boulder community.
“We are hoping that this is an instrument that’s in very high demand,” Srubar said. “We’ve built into cost model that we anticipate this to be occupied at least 50% of the time.”