National Research Facility for Lab X-ray CT

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Materials


The proposed National Research Facility (NRF) for Laboratory X-ray Computed Tomography (CT) will provide access to state-of-the-art facilities for multiscale and in situ X-ray imaging. It will be based around a hub (Manchester) and spoke (Southampton, Warwick and UCL) model that brings together the complementary strengths of 4 leading X-ray CT facilities in the UK and provides a common access route, which is both professional and user-oriented. We will also be working closely with Diamond Light Source, the UK's synchrotron facility. By offering access both to new and existing imaging systems the NRF represents good value for money. By hosting the hub of the NRF within the Henry Royce Institute we will tap into their academic and business engagement team to ensure the widest possible engagement.
The proposed NRF will build X-ray imaging capacity and capability in key areas, giving improved access to X-ray imaging beamtime to both academic and industrial users across the UK. The NRF will also establish a number of unique and world-leading capabilities, namely in lab-based X-ray phase contrast imaging (XCPI) for low attenuation materials and colour (hyperspectral) imaging for non-destructive 3D elemental mapping.
The NRF will provide researchers with access to XCT expertise, equipment and software to tackle research questions from academia and industry including, but not limited to, the physical sciences. It will enable academic and industrial users to:
- obtain multiscale 3D information non-destructively across scales from 2 m samples down to 50 nm resolution
- follow the evolution of internal structure in 3D over time (time-lapse CT or 4D imaging).
- follow the behaviour of materials in situ under a range of manufacturing and demanding environments provided by specialised rigs to obtain 3D datasets as an input to models (image-based modelling) or to validate time dependent models (time lapse studies).
- acquire multifaceted information from a range of different instruments for the same region of interest (correlative tomography)
- provide the computing, software, data storage and training resources needed to exploit the insights offered by the extremely large datasets
- work with national large-scale facilities to provide a joined-up framework for X-ray imaging science
Together with the large-scale facilities the NRF will act as a focal point for X-ray imaging in the UK driving leading-edge technique development and applications. The combined user-base experience and established training resources of the hub and spokes will be used to develop a coordinated and comprehensive national capability to impart the skills needed to the academic and industrial user communities.
An independent X-ray Imaging Steering Committee (XISC) with representation from (a) physical science users, (b) biomedical, (c) environmental & earth sciences, and (d) engineering will be created to monitor the NRFs focus and delivery to users. A fair, transparent and rapid access model will be implemented and judged by the Facilities Board comprising the Directors of the Facility, the Principal Instrument Scientist and the Co-Directors from the spokes, a representative Diamond Light Source (thereby ensuring that the Facilities work together for the benefit of the UK), NPL and EPSRC as well as 3 users. User feedback and key performance indicators will be continuously monitored to maintain the quality of the user experience and the research that is undertaken and make improvements where necessary. At a more strategic level, taking advice from the XISC the Facilities Board will allocate the recurrent resources to ensure maximum user benefit.

Planned Impact

The proposed NRF will provide new capabilities and increased capacity for X-ray Imaging to support academic and industrial users in the UK. New scientific insights will be opened up through the provision new equipment, a Visualisation and Data Analysis Support Centre as well as comprehensive training opportunities for all levels of users who can benefit from X-ray Imaging. These efforts will contribute strongly to the EPSRCs Research Infrastructure portfolio supporting the rapid development of Advanced Materials but also more widely. It will be inherently multidisciplinary lying at the intersection of Engineering, ICT, Physical Sciences and Mathematical Sciences both within EPSRCs remit supporting themes such as Energy, Digital Economy, Technology Touching Life, but also across large cross-council platforms announced since 2015 including the Faraday Battery Challenge, the Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging, the Made Smarter Industry Strategy challenges.
There are a number of important impacts:
- New and improved imaging techniques and analysis algorithms
- Unique insights into manufacturing - structure-defect-processing relationships
- Better understanding of dynamic processes from in situ studies
- Industrial troubleshooting and problem solving (inc. failure analysis and quality control)
The lab X-ray CT NRF will also deliver much wider impact from the capabilities it will develop and make accessible. These include equipment (Phase contrast and Low kV optimised X-ray Histopathology Scanner) dedicated to extracting the best quality images from biological samples. Colour Imaging to map elemental distributions non-destructively in 3D at the microscale allowing new insights in heterogeneous materials such as fuel cells and geological specimens. Fast 4D X-ray Imaging at sub-micron scale within a bespoke walk-in enclosure will reveal dynamic processes at new levels of detail and will enable new understanding in the evolution of degradation and routes to failure of metals as well as changes that occur to pharmaceutical products over time. As such the scientific impact of the NRF will be far-reaching as it will make these experiments possible and ensure that researchers who could benefit from this are identified and supported.
The NRF will also be able to expand on how it supports Police forces in forensic investigations, The NHS, as part of it's research programs, and UK museums for the investigation and curation purposes for direct societal benefit.
There is considerable industrial demand for X-ray CT, as evidenced by the 110 industry respondents to the Industry survey undertaken as part of the 2018 Roadmap exercise. These came from the following sectors in decreasing size (materials, transport, general engineering, other, energy, medical, NDT companies, manufacturing, earth sciences, pharma, biosciences, food and CT manufacturers. In most circumstances industrial users don't have the equipment or skills to plan, acquire or analyse 3D X-ray imaging data and the lab X-ray CT NRF is needed to enable with the anticipated growth in use which will directly benefit UK industry. The NRF staff will also assist companies in bidding for collaborative R&D funding, e.g. Innovate UK, enabling access to the NRF for companies of all sizes.
With regards to training and career development, the National Facility will:
- Encourage transformative research: allow free access for proof of concept experiments, vital to early career researchers to feed data into subsequent grant applications
- Give affordable student training in X-ray imaging and 3D quantification and analysis both generally and to the EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs)
- Create a hub of collaboration giving researchers exposure to industrial partnership
- Encourage teaching and outreach opportunities, aiding researchers' career development
- Increase global collaborations through hosting and support of international and interdisciplinary researcher experiments.


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