Government backs 3D X-ray technology to capture images of diseased bones in 40 seconds

EPAC Harwell

A new advanced imaging centre to be built in Oxfordshire is set to receive £81 million in government support

The imaging centre will house super-bright lasers to produce state-of-the-art 3D X-rays in just 40 seconds.

This will help speed up the development of new medical treatments, bring down the cost of manufacturing and identify design improvements.

This innovative technology will be available to UK businesses at the new Extreme Photonics Applications Centre (EPAC) in Oxfordshire. This could benefit pharmaceuticals to airplane wings, batteries for electric vehicles or even artificial organs – boosting the UK’s manufacturing sector, including across health and medicine.

EPAC will rely on laser technology developed by the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Central Laser Facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, part of the Harwell Research and Innovation Campus.

These new technologies will be able to speed up the development of new treatments. For example, high resolution 3D imaging of a diseased bone with existing technology can take hours or days: the new systems will produce detailed 3D X-rays in just 40 seconds.

Opening in 2024 at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, the new centre will bring together industrial, scientific and defence industries so that they can exploit its world-leading capabilities.

The new national research centre will build on the work undertaken by 2018 Physics Nobel Prize Winner, and third woman in history to receive this accolade, Donna Strickland – alongside Arthur Ashkin and Gerard Mourou. Her work to develop high-intensity ultrashort pulses of light beams transformed whole sectors including medicine technology and is now a common technique in laser surgery, among other disciplines.

Science Minister Chris Skidmore said: “The launch of the £81 million advanced imaging centre will enhance the UK’s leading role in laser technology, including revolutionising medical imaging. I’m especially delighted to be launching the centre with Physics Nobel Prize winner Donna Strickland – only the third woman in history to achieve this award – on International Day of Women and Girls in Science.”

Physics Nobel Prize Winner Donna Strickland said: “Science education helps develop skills in problem solving and critical thinking necessary to address some of the world’s biggest challenges. When we encourage girls and women to engage with science, they bring more diversity to science and fresh perspectives that can only help in finding innovative solutions.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Chief Executive Professor Sir Mark Walport said: “From informing the design of next generation aerodynamic aircraft components to examining 3D images of human bones, the new Extreme Photonic Applications Centre has applications across many sectors of the economy.

“This technology will create advances in the science and understanding of materials imaging. UKRI will work with a range of industry partners to realise its potential.”

Funding is provided through the government’s £830 million Strategic Priorities Fund, with additional investment from the Ministry of Defence, and forms part of the commitment to significantly boost research and development funding across every part of the UK.

The Strategic Priorities Fund supports high-quality discipline research and development priorities, with investment also going towards autonomous systems and national collections.