UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


New X-ray vision can reveal internal structure of objects

4 October 2013

New X-ray vision can reveal internal structure of objects

Peering inside a catalyst: A new dual-method imaging technique allowed scientists to map the internal nanostructure of these cylindrical catalyst bodies non-destructively. The technique combines computed tomography (CT)-which makes "slices" of the 3-D structure (circles)-with x-ray particle distribution functions (PDFs, shown as graphs), to plot information about the internal nanostructure and chemistry (colors), pixel-by-pixel in three dimensions.
Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory

A team of scientists, including UCL Chemistry's Andrew Beale, has developed a new kind of X-ray vision that is able to peer inside an object and map the three-dimensional distribution of its nano-properties in real time.

The researchers, based at a range of institutions in the UK, US and mainland Europe, say the novel imaging technique could have a wide range of applications across many disciplines, such as materials science, geology, environmental science and medical research.

"This development represents the latest installment in an area I have been involved in since 2007 where we have been developing non-invasive chemical imaging methods using X-rays to look at industrial catalysts," Beale explains.

"The work in this publication uses, as a second demonstration of the power of the technique, an industrial catalyst, containing material that is normally very difficult to chemically image since it is too small to see just a few nanometres in size."

"The technique overcomes this problem, bridging a gap  between chemical properties at the nanoscale with their distribution at the micronscale - such properties being key to understanding the physical properties of materials."

The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, explains how the new imaging technique uses scattered X-rays to form a three-dimensional reconstruction of the image.

More information on the study is available in press releases from the University of Manchester and the Brookhaven National Laboratory.


  • The research appears in a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, entitled "Pair Distribution Function-Computed Tomography"

Related links

High-resolution image

Contact Brookhaven National Laboratory for image permissions.

Researcher profiles

Science contact

Andrew Beale
UCL Chemistry / Research Complex at Harwell

01235 567837

Media contact

Oli Usher
UCL Faculty of Mathematical and Physical Sciences
020 7679 7964