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3-D X-ray Provides Detailed Images of How Living Insects Move

  • George Putic

German researchers have now developed a 3-D x-ray machine that can look inside living insects for a detailed picture of how they move, as they move.

The mechanics of insects’ bodies has long intrigued scientists and engineers, as it can often be applied in robotics.

They try to create robots that imitate insects’ movements, as their bodies are perfectly adapted for their natural habitats.

The new x-ray machine will help scientists see precisely how insects move.

“More than a million insects are known of, but we don't know at all how their internal movement dynamics work," said Thomas Van De Kamp, a biologist at Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. "And with this technology we can look at the movements and can, for example, look at what technical application possibilities there would be for this type of joint.”

In the past, scientists have used x-ray cameras to capture the motion of living insects, but some of the movements were hard to analyze without the third spatial dimension this technology provides.

A granary weevil is placed on top of a rotating platform and scanned by a 3-D x-ray camera, which creates cross-section images of its body.

Taking up to 100,000 two-dimensional pictures per second, scientists created three-dimensional sequences that show the beetle's movements in incredible detail.

Van De Kamp says it's better than a 3-D movie.

“In contrast to 3-D cinema which we know with the glasses, we not only have a perspective here through two eyes, so virtual 3-D, but we have real 3-D, this means we have the three dimensional information of complete data records and can zoom into each part to look at the details of organs and therefore have the complete 3-D information.”

Scientists say the process they call cine-tomography enables them to look at tiny specimens in 3-D, not from only two directions but from 1000 directions.