The magic of x-rays

Have you ever thought about taking an x-ray of something besides your bones? Maybe a leaf? What if we could see the structure of a plant without damaging it in any way?

The important issue is how to get contrast in the final image – do we look for x-rays to be absorbed (as in a bone x-ray) or refracted and interfered (as with diffraction)? And what kind of radiation would be best? I’ve been exploring these issues using one of our country’s finest x-ray facilities, the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne National Laboratory. I wrote a proposal to do research there and was recently lucky enough to be awarded 3 days of time at the facility. APS is an particle accelerator that uses powerful magnets to generate x-rays from the relativistic effects of accelerating electrons.

Below is a video I took late one night while conducting experiments there – you can see how large the place is, and how much science is going on at any time (in this case, after midnight on a weekend). There are thirty five beamlines which you’ll see at the right hand side of the video. I was riding a tricycle around to be able to navigate the place; it took 10 minutes to make a full circle!

So does it work? Yes! I won’t tell you about all the details of how it works yet, but here’s an image from one species below – full field of view approximately 1.5 mm x 1.0 mm.

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