What High-Energy Astrophysics has done for YOU!
A small, light-weight X-ray imaging system
Scientists and engineers realize that an instrument which creates
X-rays we detect in
space could have important applications in health care. For example, it would
allow taking medical X-rays using safer low-intensity
the small size required for instruments originally built to be wedged into
spacecraft would allow the instrument to be transported easily from place to
Acting on these ideas, Goddard Space Flight Center developed the
Low-Intensity X-ray Imaging Scope (LIXISCOPE). Marketed by HealthMate, Inc.
as the commercial product "FluoroScan", it can be taken out to a
sporting event or accident site to provide emergency diagnostic X-rays. It
can be used safely without the lead walls, special aprons, and film badges we
see in hospitals and doctors' offices. It is useful in examining newborn
babies without having to expose them to high levels of X-rays. And, lastly,
it can be operated in "real-time", for example during surgery to set
pins in broken bones, allowing continuous monitoring.
A division of HealthMate called National Imaging Systems took the same
technology and tailored it to industrial use, calling it "Inner
View". Inner View provides a low cost and safe way to do product
inspection, non-destructive testing, and security checks of cartons and
3-D Gamma-ray Imaging
Radiation Technologies, Inc., was founded to build 3-D radioactive imaging
systems based on radiation imaging concepts first developed for nuclear
The COMPTEL instrument aboard NASA's Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory was
designed to image astrophysical
sources in 2-D. In the process of considering an updated design for a
gamma-ray imager, the Radiation Technologies team discovered that
modifications of the imaging techniques used by COMPTEL could actually be used
to produce 3-D,
high-resolution images of nearby (as opposed to cosmic) gamma-ray
Collaborating with scientists from the Naval Research Laboratory in
Washington, D.C., a series of experiments was performed to prove that
the 3-D imaging technique would actually work in the laboratory.
Subsequently, a study (using computer simulations) was made to design a
system to identify and locate nuclear radiation sources inside of a
closed container without opening it. A more recent study showed the
usefulness of this technique for locating the interaction site in a
treatment for brain cancer.
A prototype instrument to demonstrate the capabilities of this imaging
technique in the treatment of brain (and other) cancer is now being built.
Other medical imaging possibilities also exist.
A revolutionary X-ray device
NASA and the National Institutes of Health have signed an agreement to
facilitate the development of new X-ray technology with the potential to
improve scientific research and enhance people's quality of life through
better medical imaging instruments. The agreement will be effective until
30 September 1999.
The collaborative research agreement takes new X-ray technology recently
developed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL, X-Ray
Optical Systems, Inc., Albany, NY, and the Center of X-Ray Optics of the State
University of New York at Albany and enhances its imaging capabilities for
a variety of commercial uses.
The NASA-developed X-ray technology is capable of generating beams that are
more than 100 times the intensity of conventional X-ray generators. At the
heart of the NASA technology is a new type of optics for X-rays called
Capillary Optics. The X-rays can be controlled by reflecting them through
tens of thousands of tiny curved channels or capillaries, similar to the way
light is directed through fiber optics. The high-intensity beams will permit
scientific and medical research to be performed in less time with higher
accuracy and could permit the use of smaller, lower-cost and safer X-ray
A primary use of the new technology is in research leading to the
development of new disease-fighting drugs. "Once developed, the X-ray
device will enhance a researcher's ability to determine difficult protein
structures at a faster pace, which is critical to new drug design," said
Dr. Dan Carter of Marshall's Laboratory for Structural Biology.
Other expected applications in scientific research and medicine include
better manufacturing control for semiconductor circuits and better medical
imaging, such as in mammography and improved forensics.