Scanning at resolutions of up to 500 nanometres, Stellenbosch University’s new multi-million rand Phoenix Nanotom S nano CT system – the first and only such machine in Africa – makes even the 1 mm tip of a toothpick seem the size of a giant tree trunk.
Using what is essentially sophisticated and advanced X-ray technology, the Nanotom generates a series of kaleidoscopic images that penetrate and explore – with full HD 3D data – every nook, cranny, grain or cell of the object under scrutiny.
Also known as a nanofocus computed tomography (nano ct) system, the machine is able to peer with astounding detail into materials, and is the newest tool in the arsenal of imaging and analysis services offered by Stellenbosch’s CT Scanning Unit. The scanner is the companion piece to the facility’s microfocus computed tomography (micro ct) system, a machine that produces the same selection of 2D and 3D scans as the nano ct, but for larger and denser samples, including metals.
What makes both systems so popular is that they are non-intrusive, which means they can scan materials intact, with no need to cut, chop, grind or melt samples.
Run as a public service, the facility’s clients are an array of individuals, private companies and institutions in South Africa and abroad – “Anyone who would like to use the facility,” as CT Scanning Unit manager Anton du Plessis and analyst Stephan le Roux put it.
So far, the facility has run nano-CT scans on pollen grains, fossil rocks, microchips (without harming a single wire or component), plastics, grain kernels and wood welds, among other materials.
Acquisition of the new CT scanner was made possible with funding from Stellenbosch University and the National Equipment Programme of the National Research Foundation. “It’s the next level in scanning resolution,” says Du Plessis. “And increasingly people want to see what’s going on inside their samples in greater detail, so this is our way of delivering a better service.”
More information on the system is available at www.sun.ac.za/ctscanner
Writer: Morgan Morris