Imaging technology reveals clearer picture

Imaging technology reveals clearer picture

GETTING a clearer picture of the inside story is a step closer with the development of improved X-ray and gamma ray technology in Melbourne. The technology has potential for wide application in areas such as the screening of airport baggage, oil exploration, mineral analysis and in medicine.

Put simply, X-rays provide a skeletal picture and gamma rays can indicate the make-up of a substance. Gamma rays, for example, can detect explosives and are therefore useful for finding landmines.

The technology allows for stronger radiation in the imaging process.

“More radiation means better penetration and therefore a clearer image can be seen,” says Paul Scoullar, who developed the technology with his supervisor, Professor Rob Evans, as part of his PhD at the University of Melbourne’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

Security is one area that will benefit from the new technology. Mr Scoullar says less than 5-per cent of the world’s millions of shipping containers are screened.

The problem with current radiation detection systems is that they cannot cope with strong radiation, says Mr Scoullar. “The stronger the radiation source, the more rays, or pulses, are emitted in quick succession. The detection systems can’t distinguish between the pulses and instead sums them together and sees them as a single pulse – this is referred to as ‘pulse pile-up’.

“Pulse pile-up leads to distortions in the results and is typically dealt with by just throwing away the distorted section. This obviously slows down the time it takes to get the image of the target and also places limits on the intensity of rays for current detection systems.”

The University of Melbourne team, through the Co-operative Research Centre for Sensor Signal and Information Processing, developed another way of depicting incoming pulses thereby overcoming pulse pile-up.

The technology can extract information from 100 per cent of the data stream.

“Because less data is thrown away, we can get a better picture faster, and we can do it in the presence of much more radiation,” says Mr Scoullar.

The new technology is making an impact here and overseas, with a working prototype presented to research experts and companies across Australia, the US and Canada.

Mr Scoullar says a recent trip to visit potential clients in the United States, with the support of AusTrade, was encouraging.

“In the States they are very aware of the problems and limitations with the current detection technology, and they hadn’t seen technology like ours before,” says Mr Scoullar.

“They are interested in the potential to integrate it with their product suites. Because our technology is modular, the integration is easy. We are in the process of doing advanced trials with these companies to demonstrate how our technology can improve their systems.”

Mr Scoullar has set up a company, Southern Innovation, to commercialise the technology.

The team was recently awarded a City of Melbourne Small Business Development Grant. Late last year the venture was also awarded an AusIndustry COMET grant for commercialising emerging technologies.

“It’s exciting,” says Mr Scoullar. “Five years ago it was just scribbles on a whiteboard.”

The Age, October 2005, by Cynthia Karena

About Southern Innovation:
Southern Innovation develops, markets and licenses patented pulse processing technologies for the rapid, accurate detection and measurement of radiation. The company was born out of research to review suitable technologies for the accurate and rapid detection of legacy landmines. Southern Innovation’s multi-award winning SITORO┬« technology provides a quantum leap in the efficiency of radiation detectors, with wide application in areas such as airport baggage screening, oil exploration, mineral analysis and the early detection of cancer. For more information contact