X-ray snapshots: From big black holes to tiny viruses

Cameras designed for capturing black holes are now exploring a new frontier: they are helping us to get up close to viruses on Earth, opening the door to solving medical problems. These space cameras are opening new frontiers in life…

Cameras designed for capturing black holes are now exploring a new frontier: they are helping us to get up close to viruses on Earth, opening the door to solving medical problems.

These space cameras are opening new frontiers in life sciences by probing ultrafast physical, chemical and biochemical processes at the atomic level, gaining clearer images of structures such as viruses and proteins.

A descendant of the X-ray space camera took the first images of the Mimi virus, the largest and most complex virus currently known. Analysis of this intriguing virus may shed light on basic questions of viral evolution and, perhaps, the origins of life.

Spin-off from space programme

Researchers at the University of Leicester in the UK developed special X-ray cameras for ESA’s XMM-Newton satellite in the early 1990s.
“ESA funded a lot of that early work to create the X-ray sensors,” said Karen Holland, CEO of XCAM, the company founded in 1995 as a spin-off from the university to develop and market these advanced techniques.
Complex technology is required to take snapshots of the Universe’s X-rays, which are generated by extremely hot objects or from strong magnetic or gravitational fields.
“Things like black holes are what you’re looking for, really, with this technique,” notes Karen.

EnlargeThis picture shows a small extract of one of the X-ray images shot by the EPIC cameras on board ESA’s XMM-Newton for the Taurus-Auriga survey project. The bright star on the left is one of many normal, young, solar-like stars in the Taurus-Aurigae star-formation region. It shows bright X-rays from very hot gas. The star to its right is AB Aurigae. The image has been colour-coded, and the orange colour shows that the gas of AB Aurigae is much cooler than that in the other young stars. Credit: M. Guedel/ESA“In order to capture an image in space, you often need many detectors, so the mechanical camera head on a satellite’s X-ray telescope is a very complicated item. It needs to hold and handle the detectors in an array, but must also be lightweight.
“All must be built so the area around the detector stays extremely clean, and all must function in space vacuum.” Special electronics are also required to drive and operate the detectors.
Space technology spots Mimi virus on Earth
Once these technologies were developed for XMM-Newton’s X-ray camera, the developers realised that the knowhow could be used in a variety of applications on Earth.
In addition to efficient mechanical cameras, XCAM also developed a new type of X-ray camera that produced better images for terrestrial applications, with smaller pixels at higher resolution.
As a result, XCAM was able to supply cameras for the X-ray Free Electron Laser at the DESY German Electron Synchrotron centre in Hamburg, Germany, to take very precise pictures of viruses. Understanding the virus structure could lead to better medicines and healthier people.
“It’s the world’s first laser X-ray,” said Karen. “They were building it, and they realised they needed a camera.”
Thanks to XCAM’s decades of experience, “We were able to design and build a camera system for them which took the first images of the Mimi virus.”
XCAM also developed a new detector design concept now being used at a similar facility in Japan.

EnlargeAt DESY in Germany, electromagnetic fields accelerate the electrons in the superconducting resonators. Credit: DESY 1999XMM-Newton technology was the right solution
“The advanced research and development which were done for the XMM-Newton camera put XCAM in the position to acquire new business areas, initially for the advanced DESY research facility, and later also for the similar X-ray laser in Japan,” said Matthew Edwards from STFC Innovations, a broker in the Technology Transfer Network of ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office.
“It is a great example of the potential of European leading-edge space technologies. They help our companies do better business, both the ones working in space programmes and spinning-off their space products and expertise directly as XCAM did, but also non-space companies which can profit from space technologies already developed and ready to be used in non-space sectors.”
Other potential applications include industrial uses like medical X-rays or X-ray microscopy. But for now, life sciences research, like that being done on the viruses, seems most promising.
“In the case of DESY, they wanted it very quickly,” said Karen. “We could give it to them, thanks to years of experience from our XMM-Newton development.”
ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office with its Technology Transfer Network of technology brokers has helped to spin off technologies and expertise from ESA and European space programmes to non-space industries and systems.
More than 280 space technologies are now used in non-space applications as diverse as train tracking systems, ground-penetrating radar to detect cracks in mine tunnels and healthcare innovations.
To support the spin off and to foster new European business, seven Business Incubation Centres have been set up throughout Europe, supporting more than 60 start-ups every year.

Provided by

European Space Agency

view popular
send feedback to editors

not rated yet

1
2
3
4
5

Rank

1
2
3
4
5

not rated yet

more news

Related Stories

Mar 26, 2010
0
Faster, cheaper chips from space technology

Oct 13, 2010
0
The benefits of space technology for dentists

Dec 09, 2009
0
XMM-Newton celebrates decade of discovery

Oct 04, 2012
0
New 3D camera for space missions—better imaging with less energy

Relevant PhysicsForums posts

Gravitational Force Units Question
1 hour ago
I just have a question concerning a previous thread about gravitation.

The formula is from post 19 at http://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=635188&page=2

v= dr/dt

a = dv/dt

Flow rate distribution on multiple branch
1 hour ago
Let say I have a simple fan/duct system delivering air at standard conditions with one branch at inlet and one branch at discharge. The fan is operating in its stable region with known flow rate and…

orbitals of celestial bodies
12 hours ago
Hi all,

I have a question about calculating the orbitals of bodies of mass in space (newton’s basic laws). I am writing a program to simulate the orbitals of bodies in space — basically, you…

Quantifying impact of boost leak on a turbocharged engine
14 hours ago
Is there a general equation that can be used to determine the impact that a leak of a given size will have on a turbocharged engine?

For example, if I know the expected boost for a given operating…

A question on jumping
15 hours ago
Hi,

This is not homework, I’m 29 years old. I’m just curious…

Lets say I weigh 180lbs and I can jump 20 inches off the ground.

If I lose 25lbs making me 155lbs. How much higher should I be…

Understanding m^2 / s^2 (Speed of Light help)
15 hours ago
Google says the speed of light squared is 8.98755179 × 1016 m2 / s2 … Can someone give this to me in meters per second please

More from Physics Forums – General Physics

More news stories

Ultra-high-speed optical communications link sets new power efficiency record

Ultrafast supercomputers that operate at speeds 100 times faster than current systems are now one step closer to reality. A team of IBM researchers working on a U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency …

Physics / Optics & Photonics

37 minutes ago |
not rated yet |
0

Breaking the final barrier: Room-temperature electrically powered nanolasers

(Phys.org) —A breakthrough in nanolaser technology has been made by Arizona State University researchers.

Physics / Optics & Photonics

8 hours ago |
4.4 / 5 (12) |
0
|

New X-ray imaging technique yields unprecedented measurements of nanoscale structures

(Phys.org) —Photographers rely on precision lenses to generate well-focused and crystal-clear images. These high-quality optics—readily available and produced in huge quantities—are often taken for …

Physics / Condensed Matter

19 hours ago |
5 / 5 (9) |
0
|

Ex nihilo: Dynamical Casimir effect in metamaterial converts vacuum fluctuations into real photons

(Phys.org) —In the strange world of quantum mechanics, the vacuum state (sometimes referred to as the quantum vacuum, simply as the vacuum) is a quantum system’s lowest possible energy state. While not …

Physics / General Physics

Mar 08, 2013 |
5 / 5 (21) |
81
|

Math model reveals insight into how first life forms were ‘born’

An international team of physicists have revealed insights into how the very first life-forms made the jump from the non-living to the living world, by mathematically modelling biological states using energy waves called …

Physics / General Physics

Mar 11, 2013 |
4.8 / 5 (12) |
19
|

Flexible, semitransparent power source made with novel comb-teeth structure

(Phys.org) —Most batteries, supercapacitors, and other energy storage devices are based on a sandwich structure, where two electrodes face each other and the charge flows between them. However, when these …

Nanotechnology / Nanophysics
42 minutes ago |
not rated yet |
0
|

Astrobiologists claim meteorite carried space algae

(Phys.org) —A fireball that appeared over the Sri Lankan province of Polonnaruwa on December 29, 2012 was a meteorite containing algae fossils, according to a paper published in the Journal of Cosmology. A team …

Space & Earth / Space Exploration
1 hour ago |
1 / 5 (1) |
5
|

Neural ‘synchrony’ may be key to understanding how the human brain perceives

Despite many remarkable discoveries in the field of neuroscience during the past several decades, researchers have not been able to fully crack the brain’s “neural code.” The neural code details how the brain’s …

Medicine & Health / Neuroscience
42 minutes ago |
not rated yet |
0
|

New distance record for 400 Gb/s data transmission

As network carriers debate the next Ethernet standard—and whether transmission speeds of 400 gigabit per second or 1 terabit per second should be the norm—engineers are working on new measures to squeeze …

Technology / Telecom
38 minutes ago |
not rated yet |
1
|

Acute physical exercise improves executive function

(HealthDay)—Acute physical exercise improves executive function in children, adolescents, and young adults, according to a meta-analysis published online March 6 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Medicine & Health / Health
42 minutes ago |
not rated yet |
0

ACC: Niacin/Laropiprant no benefit in vascular disease

(HealthDay)—For patients with preexisting occlusive vascular disease, the combination of niacin and the anti-flushing agent laropiprant provides no benefit and is associated with an increase in serious …

Medicine & Health / Cardiology
32 minutes ago |
not rated yet |
0