An iconic moment in the history of Hollywood movie magic was born in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz when Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale stepped out of the black and white world of Kansas into the rainbow colored world of Oz. An iconic moment in the history of infrared imaging may have been born with the announcement of the first technique to offer full color IR tomography.
A collaboration between researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) has combined Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy with computed tomography (CT-scans) to create a non-destructive 3D imaging technique that provides molecular-level chemical information of unprecedented detail on biological and other specimens with no need to stain or alter the specimen.
“The notion of having the colors in a 3D reconstructed image being tied to real chemistry is powerful,” says Michael Martin, an infrared imaging expert at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source, a DOE national user facility. “We’ve all seen pretty 3D renderings of medical scans with colors, for example bone-colored bones, but that’s simply an artistic choice. Now we can spectrally identify the specific types of minerals within a piece of bone and assign a color to each type within the 3D reconstructed image.”
Martin is one of two corresponding authors of a paper describing this research in the journal Nature Methods titled “3D Spectral Imaging with Synchrotron Fourier Transform Infrared Spectro-microtomography.” The other corresponding author is UWM physicist Carol Hirschmugl, Director of the Laboratory for Dynamics and Structure at Surfaces and a principal investigator with UW-Madison’s Synchrotron Radiation Center (SRC).
Every individual type of molecule absorbs infrared (IR) light at specific wavelengths that are as characteristic as a human fingerprint. IR spectroscopy can be used to identify the chemical constituents of a sample and the application of the Fourier-transform algorithm allows all IR fingerprints to be simultaneously recorded. FTIR spectroscopy is especially valuable for imaging proteins and other biological samples because it is non-destructive and can be performed without altering the sample. Martin and Hirschmugl and their colleagues have combined FTIR with computed tomography, the technique for reconstructing 3D images out of multiple cross-sectional slices, to achieve what is believed to be the first demonstration of FTIR spectro-microtomography.