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Tiny X-rays of Tiny Animals 30

Johnny Vector writes: "Scientists at Cornell have taken X-rays of fruit flies, with enough detail to see the hairs on their wings. The AIP has more photos. They did it with an "X-Pinch" machine: vaporize a wire, the resulting plasma implodes, producing a tiny (1/1000 inch), fast (nanosecond) pulse of X-rays. I want one of those machines."
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Tiny X-rays of Tiny Animals

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Well, I'm completely opposed to this kind of animal research. Killing the animals and then photographing them in various poses is demeaning and is a violation of their civil rights.

    I'm starting an organization to protest and combat these evil scientists! Please join the Brothers United for the General Rights Of Fruit Flies today!

    Or write for more information at:
    c/o BUGROFF
    10101 Dolth Ave. N
    Ani, MA 11111
    • Just yesterday I noticed a fruit-fly swimming around in my girlfrinds cup of cold coffee. We have a little compost bin in the kitchen that we don't empty often enough. It (the fly) was swimming around and around, occasionally bumping into a drowned friend.

      For some reason, I fished it out and put it on the saucer. I walked around, still submerged in milky coffee, suface tension sticking it to the surface of the saucer, leaving a trail of coffee as it walked and still on its way to drowning.

      I put some water in the palm of my hand and gingerly picked up the fly on the tip of my finger and dunked in in. Once in the water it suddenly started walking around much faster, totally under water, free of the oils from the milk. Still drowning, though.

      I drained from my palm. It was left again stuck within the confines of the liquid stuck to its body. I touched it with a tissue and the water wicked away. It began walking around like a normal fly, only its wings now stuck down.

      For the next few minutes I watched it crawl around the hairs on my wrist, pausing every now and again to clean its head, legs and wings in that very-fly-like way.

      Then, zip, it took off again.

      A few moments later, my girlfriend return and sat beside me with a book. The fly did a couple of low passes over the pages and was promptly swatted.

      And so it goes.

  • With this technology they can image a fruit fly. Now I wonder if they can build on this and image even smaller .... which requires (of course) higher engery xrays, but still- can you imagine a paramecium 'xray'?

    Doctor "Yes, I'm sorry, but you seem to have broken several cilia on your last divide."

    Actually wonder if they can use this for etching micro machines ;)
  • by Wills (242929) on Thursday November 01, 2001 @03:13PM (#2508846)

    Any electrical spark of sufficient energy density can generate X-rays as well as emissions in other regions of the EM spectrum, especially visible and UV light. For example, you can also get emissions of X-rays from many types of electrical safety fuses when a massive excess of electrical current causes them to blow.

    The X-ray emissions from a fuse are detectable with the help of a well-equipped physics lab. However, the emissions you get are not very useful, being neither of short duration nor a single point source emission. By contrast the researchers at Cornell are using carefully constructed crossed wires which produce extremely short picosecond point-source pulses of X-rays.

    • You do not get x-ray emission from ordinary electrical sparks such as from fuses.

      Yes you get RF emission and visible light and even a substantial amount of UV. But if you knew anything about the EM spectrum that you mentioned in your post, you would know that x-ray photons are a thousand times more energetic than UV photons and the puny spark in a blown fuse at household current could not possibly create x-rays.

      The Z-machine [] at Sandia National Labs uses up to 20 Million amperes!! to pinch its plasma fusion experiments. In order to create x-rays from a pinch you need to heat the plasma in the pinch to millions of degrees celsius; the x-rays are produced by hot plasma radiating its energy through bremsstrahlung emission and the nuclei-electron recombination time during plasma cooling.
      • by Wills (242929) on Wednesday November 07, 2001 @09:48AM (#2532519)

        What the previous poster says is completely wrong. You always get X-rays even from ordinary electrical sparks such as from fuses blowing. The ideas explaining this fact have been known since the theories of quantum mechanics were developed in the 20th century.

        Planck's Law [] states there are emissions of electromagnetic radiation at all wavelengths from zero to infinity, i.e. including visible light, infrared, ultraviolet, x-ray, gamma ray, etc.

        Planck's Law of Energy Distribution:

        • E(L)= 2.PI.h.c^2 / (L^5 (e^(h.c.k.T/L)-1))

        • E(L) is the energy emitted [Watts/metre^2/UnitWavelength],

          L is the wavelength of emitted radiation [metres],

          T is the temperature of the black-body emitter [Kelvin],

          c is the speed of light (3x10^8 metres/second),

          k is Boltzmann's constant (1.38x10E-23 Joules/Kelvin),

          h is Planck's constant (6.62606891 x 10E-34 Joule seconds), and

          PI is the mathematical constant (3.14159...)

        The electromagnetic emissions are strongest at one wavelength given by

        Wien's Law []

        • L = 0.002898 / T
        I think the previous poster has confused total energy dissipation with photon energy which is a function of wavelength (another of Planck's laws: E=hc/L). Although the total energy dissipated when a fuse blows is indeed relatively small, c.0.1 Joules, you nonetheless get electromagnetic emissions at all wavelengths including X-rays by Planck's Law.

        There is a simple experiment to give a visible indication that a wide range of wavelengths is emitted by electrical sparks. Wearing gloves and safety eye glasses, connect a short 2cm length of 1Amp fuse wire across the two terminals of a low voltage supply like a 12Volt car battery. The fuse wire will blow. Notice the color of the centre of the spark is roughly white. This is because the temperature of the vaporised metal from the fuse wire, created when the fuse blows, momentarily exceeds 5000K, giving a wavelength of peak emission by Wien's Law of 580nm (green light).

        • The reason why you don't see the spark as having a green color is that it is emitting a wide range of wavelengths centered around 580nm which stimulates all three types of the color cone receptors in your eyes nearly equally, so making the color appear white. Your eyes lack X-ray and gamma ray detectors, so you cannot see this radiation being emitted by the fuse.

        • The reason why you are not much harmed by the emissions of X-rays and gamma rays from the electrical spark is that the total energy of the emissions at the higher frequencies is very small according to Planck's Law, above, even though the energy of individual photons at the higher frequencies is very high (E=hc/L).

        If you want to understand more about the electromagnetic spectrum, there is a great summary of the quantum mechanics of black body radiation here []

        • How cute, someone's taking their required intro. to physics class. I regret to inform however, that you are still dead wrong. I am quite aware of Plank's law and Wien peaks etc. If you just look the curve for blackbody radiators on that page you linked to, it becomes instantly obvious that the curve is not a perfect parabola and in fact (with the effect increasing with temperature) drops off to the asymptote so quickly from the peak toward shorter wavelengths that it is effectively radiating 0 energy above a certain level.

          It dosen't matter how many equations you fill your post with, you are still violating thermo. law with the assumption that blackbodies emit at ALL wavelenghts. This is due to the fact that as you stated, EM emission is quantized!!

          Let's take the example you gave for an emitter at 5000 Kelvins. You were right(close) that it will peak at an emission of 578 nanometers, giving white light; fine. Now apply the value of 5000K to the plank energy distribution formula to derive the power emitted at....oh lets say 10^20 Hz (gamma rays), (this corresponds to a wavelength of ~1 picometer in the gamma ray range and, according to you, this must be emitted by the spark); you get: Power=[2*3.14159265 st*speed of light^2]/[10^-12 meters^5*(e^(6.626 x 10^-34*c/10^-12 meters*boltzmann const of 1.38 x 10^-23*5000K))]=3.7469e-16/1*10^60(2.7182818^86426 0869565217*-1). Honestly, I don't have a supercomputer handy to calculate that exponent, but the HUGE denominator obviously restricts the amount of energy in Joules emitted at that wavelength (gamma) to FAR FAR below the energy needed to emit even one quanta of 10^-12 meter radiation. ie. it dosen't radiate anything at that wavelength, ever. You would be emitting more energy from the blackbody that would exist in it to begin with. It dosen't happen.
    • The X-ray emissions from a fuse are detectable with the help of a well-equipped physics lab.

      A well-equipped physics lab will also let you construct Battlecruisers, but I don't see any slashdot stories about it...

  • What about when they get two point sources? Is the resulting image totally blurred/mucked up?
    As the current increases, the magnetic field grows and the plasma implodes, typically resulting in one or two dense plasma points less than a thousandth of an inch across with temperatures as high as 10 million degrees centigrade. The unstable plasma points emit bursts of x-rays that last less than a billionth of a second and then explode.

    Doesn't that make a double exposure on the x-ray film? Would not the two illuminating point sources make a stereo image? Then you would be talking about a very tiny and detailed three dimensional x-ray images of flies. I assume they would need to develop a digital filter that could amplify the stereo separation of the image, as the two point sources of x-rays are quite close to each other...
    • Doesn't that make a double exposure on the x-ray film? Would not the two illuminating point sources make a stereo image? Then you would be talking about a very tiny and detailed three dimensional x-ray images of flies.

      You only get a stereoscopic image if you store each (single-source) image on a different piece of film. Two light sources for the same piece of film just gives you a double exposure. The next time you're walking in the evening, stand between two street lights and look at your shadow for an example of this; you're not going to get a 3D picture of yourself from those shadows very easily.
  • It seems that with the aid of a mask, this kind of process could be used to lithograph very, very tiny chips. Anyone know differently?
  • I wonder if some similar technique could be used to produce thermoneuclear fusion.

  • This article talks a lot about how useful this X-Pinch machine is and what can be done with it, but doesn't really explain what an X-Pinch is from a physical perspective. A previous comment mentioned a Z-Pinch machine and linked to a Scientific American article that described it as a magnetic field that somehow "pinches" a plasma around the Z-axis - not a very intelligible explanation. I tried a search engine, but you can imagine what kind of sites come up for "X-Pinch" :-)
    Does anyone know how these "pinches" work, or have a link to a good site or paper that explains what they are?
    • Re:"Pinches" (Score:3, Informative)

      by deglr6328 (150198)
      It may help to think of a(kindof) common result of the pinch effect. In arc welding, if you get just the right setup with enough current at the weld and a molten bit of metal it will splatter the metal everywhere because of the pinch effect.

      The pinch effect is created by the strong axial magnetic field created by the current flowing through the material in question. See here [] for illustrations of magnetic fields. In the case of the article they used two crossed wires which were vaporized to a plasma(therefore still conducting like a wire) by high current. You can picture the strong magnetic field wraping cylindrically around (and squeezing inward with increasing current) the vaporized wire/plasma's axis. At the intersection of the two wires there would then be a small bubble of highly compressed plasma which is heated to extremely high temperatures, as the plasma cools there is a fast plasma "recombination" where the electrons rejoin their nuclei and emit a fast burst of x-rays.
      (IANAP so if someone here is, and there is a mistake anywhere feel free to correct me)

      If you instead picture an annular array of wires(eg. 10-20 wires) rather than two crossed wires than you can see that the individual magnetic fields of the wires combine into one huge axial field. This is the so called Z-pinch (because the magnetic field is in the "z" axis). These are the pinches used to initiate thermonuclear fusion in machines like this [].

      As an aside: Sandia used to use an X-Pinch to "backlight" implosion experiments on the Z-Machine with x-rays so that they may be imaged. Recently they upgraded this setup with a more reliable method of x-ray backlighting using ultrahigh power laser pulses to heat a metal foil target that then creates x-rays. The place where I work supplied the laser parts.
  • Tiny X-rays of Tiny Animals

    Fruit flies aren't animals. They're insects....

    • ...As opposed to minerals or vegetables? Of course they're animals!

We all agree on the necessity of compromise. We just can't agree on when it's necessary to compromise. -- Larry Wall