Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Robots and worms - worm scans rather than CAT scans?

Just at the end of the year I visited Prof. Sacha Mooney at Nottingham University to look at the Hounsfield X-ray tomography facility. In brief X-ray tomography allows you to take images of stuff that isn't see through to visible light. I was interested in whether we could use it to see earthworms in soil.

The facility itself is funded primarily to take photos of the root structure of different genotypes of wheat as part of a project designed to optimise wheat varieties for food production. The whole thing is very impressive.

There is a big greenhouse full of drainpipes in which the wheat is growing. A robot trundles round this greenhouse picking up the drainpipes and taking them to the tomography unit.
You can see the robot behind the plants in drainpipes here.
The robot picks up a drainpipe and brings it towards the tomography unit. You can see the door to the tomography unit beginning to open.
The robot deposits the drainpipe and retreats.
On the other side of the door another robot picks up the drainpipe and puts it in the scanner.
 We also had drainpipes (with soil and earthworms) but we used a smaller scanner to look at them.

A smaller scanner unit that we used to scan our 30 cm high 12 cm diameter drainpipes

It took about 30 minutes scan time then some processing time by senior research fellow and X-ray tomography whizz Craig Sturrock to produce the following film in which you can see the earthworms in pink and the burrows in yellow. So now we can actually see where earthworms are in the soil. Incredible.
video

The other nice thing about visiting Nottingham is East Midlands Parkway - you get an excellent view of the Ratcliffe-on-Soar cooling towers!

Cooling towers at East Midlands Parkway train station

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