New CT imaging facility reveals ‘internal secrets’

The Cambridge Biotomography Centre (CBC), which launched early in 2015, houses the latest high-resolution computed tomography (CT) scanner available on the market. One of only a handful in the country, the CT scanner uses X-rays to measure density differences within objects, generating a precise three-dimensional reconstruction of the internal and external architecture of almost any object or specimen.

Already being used to scan everything from ancient Egyptian leg bones and fossils hidden inside rocks, to the muscle and skeletons within dead rats, the facility has been launched with the intention of providing not just Cambridge researchers but also the wider international research community with the chance to unlock their material’s closely held secrets.

“Although CT is frequently used in hospitals, this type of imaging has only recently become available to researchers,” explained Dr Colin Shaw, one of the leaders of the facility.

His work in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology is analysing the behaviour of our prehistoric ancestors through the analysis of their bones. “A continuum of different behaviours that stretches from couch potato to ultramarathon runner puts stresses and strains on bones which can be measured to reconstruct what our lives were like in the past,” he explained.

However, the information is hidden deep within the honeycomb-like structure of the bone itself, and the ancient remains he studies are too precious to be broken open. “For objects like these, the ability to do this non-invasively without cutting or slicing is a real benefit,” he added. “It means we can carry on studying the object long after the measurements have been made.”

The CBC houses a Nikon Metrology XT H 225 ST High Resolution CT Scanner and is a multi-user research facility that supports Cambridge researchers as well as the broader national and international academic community. The Center resides in the Department of Zoology, and was funded by the School of the Biological Sciences, the Departments of Zoology and Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, and the PAVE Research Group of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology.

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