A new X-ray technique for detecting explosives can also identify tumors

While the most obvious application would be scanning bombs and other dangerous items and substances at airports, the findings described in Nature Communications Today, it can also help detect cracks and rust in buildings, and it could eventually be used to identify early-stage tumors.

The team of researchers from UCL in London hid small amounts of explosives, including Semtex and C4, inside electrical items such as laptops, hair dryers and mobile phones. These items are placed inside the bag with a toothbrush, charger and other everyday items to replicate almost like a travel bag.

While standard X-ray machines hit objects with a uniform X-ray field, the team scanned the bags with a custom-made machine that contained masks — metal sheets with holes punched in. them, which separate the beams into an array of smaller beams.

Scan inside the bag.  Top is conventional, bottom is microradian scattering technique
Scan inside the bag. Top is conventional, bottom is microradian dispersion.


As the tiny beams pass through the pocket and inside it, they are scattered at angles as small as a microradian (about one 20,000th of a degree). angle change model.

Lead author Sandro Olivo, from UCL’s Department of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering, says the AI ​​is particularly good at picking up these materials even when they’re hidden inside other objects. “Even if we hide a small amount of explosive somewhere, because there will be a bit of texture in the middle of a lot of other things, the algorithm will find it.”

Comparison between traditional techniques and scattering techniques
The conventional method (left) versus the scattering method on the right.


The algorithm was able to accurately identify explosives in every test performed under experimental conditions, although the team admits that it would be unrealistic to expect such a high level of accuracy in large studies. more like real-world conditions.

The team believes the technique could also be used in medical applications, particularly in cancer screening. Although the researchers have yet to test whether the technique can successfully distinguish the texture of a tumor from surrounding healthy breast tissue, he is excited by its ability to detect very small tumors. which may have previously gone undetected behind the patient’s rib cage.

“I’d love to do it someday,” he added. “If we get the same hit rate in detecting textures in tumors, the potential for early diagnosis is huge.”

“This latest work by UCL teams presented here looks extremely promising. It combines new X-ray imaging with AI and has great potential for the extremely difficult tasks of threat detection in hand luggage and NDT applications such as crack detection,” said Kevin Wells, Vice President Professor at the University of Surrey said.

“Finding cancer involves its own set of challenges, and we look forward to seeing work progress in this field in the right way.”

Update: The article has been updated with a longer quote.

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