Next-Gen CT for environmental sciences

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Biosciences


We propose the acquisition of a state of the art, next generation X-ray Computed Tomography (CT) scanner. This will be housed at the Hounsfield Facility, a centre dedicated to CT for the environmental sciences at the University of Nottingham (UoN). The system will have several significant advances on any comparable system (outside of a synchrotron facility which are not readily available to the scientific community especially for time series studies where the same sample is scanned over weeks or months). New functionality includes i) improved contrast resolution allowing us to detect features in samples, such as soil organic carbon, that are currently 'invisible' due to similar X-ray attenuation opening new possibilities for research; ii) faster scan times (c. 1-2 mins compared to c. 60 mins) enabling us to undertake almost 'real-time' imaging such as solute transport in soil; & iii) an integrated automated sample loading system allowing out of hours scanning to increase the sample throughput. The instrument will have wide interdisciplinary appeal as the primary output is 3D visualisation/models of undisturbed materials based on X-ray attenuation/density in which key features (e.g. roots, carbon, water etc.) can be quantified via accompanying image analysis software. The particular focus will be addressing issues concerned with soil security especially those associated with the current climate emergency. The UK Government's 25 Year Environment Plan identified the need to improve soil health and thus soil security across the nation. The recent House of Commons audit on soil health stated 'Healthy soils are important for food production and human wellbeing'. Most soils in the UK are degraded and suffering a rapid and progressive loss of organic matter, leading to a decline in soil quality, release of damaging greenhouse gases and the sub-optimal delivery of many ecosystem services (e.g. biodiversity, carbon storage, food production, nutrient cycling). We will use the new scanner to develop a new understanding for important soil mechanisms. For example, we will develop a new method to visualise and measure organic carbon in soil aggregates to provide a new insight into how carbon is stored in soil, supporting the generation of new models to predict the role of carbon loss on climate change and policy-relevant solutions capable of widespread adoption by land-owners for enhancing carbon sequestration in soil. In addition, we will explore the potential of drought tolerant plants to manipulate the rhizosphere (i.e. the soils closely adhering to roots) to improve water retention in soil and confer a resistance to the increasingly extreme weather events. By offering access to the wider NERC community, and in particular early career scientists, supported by a comprehensive training programme by experts at our facility, we seek to lead on the use of X-ray imaging in the environmental sciences.


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