Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Synchotron Radiation Tomography Illuminates Hidden Bugs

We've all seen pictures of ancient insects trapped in the golden, honey-like transparency of amber. Amber is fossilized tree resin, that when it was formed, trapped and preserved the form of insects and other small animals that it flowed over. But much amber is cloudy, and short of breaking it open, there's not been anyway to look inside to see what fossils might be found within. Now, scientists at the European Synchotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France have used high-intensity X-ray radiation to peek inside the amber and through computerized tomography (the same method as CT scans used in medicine) reconstructed 3-D images of fossils found in the amber. This was previously not possible with conventional X-ray sources. What's even neater - they use a method called 3D printing to produce a plastic resin scaled up model of the fossils in the amber, so palaeontologists have something tangible to manipulate and observe, rather than just pictures on a screen. Really amazing!

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