Flash X-ray

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What's the difference between X-rays and Flash X-rays?

With traditional or ‘continuous’ X-rays, you can see inside an object like a superhero, revealing the lurking dangers not seen by the human eye. Or you can see the small building blocks of nature revealing the electronic and atomic structures of our surroundings. When making traditional X-rays, the subject needs to be stationary in order to obtain a clear image. Moving subjects are difficult, if not impossible, to study with this type of X-ray source.

Flash X-rays are utilized where there is a need for an X-ray pulse in order to freeze time and capture images of dynamic events where the subjects are in motion. Flash X-rays are also used for pulsed X-ray detector development and dynamic diffraction measurements.

Is it rocket science?

Actually yes, it is rocket science!

One of the fundamental areas of use for flash X-rays is space research. If you want to send something valuable out into space, you want to ensure that it can survive, for example, a space debris hit. Space debris travels at speeds of up to 15 km/s, and when hitting a solid material, the pressure and temperature can exceed those found at the center of the earth (365 GPA and 6 000K). If you would like to study such hyper-velocity impacts, you would need very fast detection as an object traveling at 15 km/s travels 0.3 mm in 20 ns. Just increasing the exposure time from 20 ns to 100 ns would increase the travel distance to 1.5 mm and if exposure takes microseconds, the object will have traveled cm’s.

Why choose Flash X-ray instrumentation?

Simply stated in three words: Power, Speed and Precision

When it comes to capturing sharp images of fast-moving objects, Flash X-ray instrumentation stands out due to its unparalleled speed and power. Here’s why:

Unmatched Power and Speed
Continuous X-ray sources, operating in the kV and mA range, emit X-rays from the moment they’re started until they’re stopped, delivering a power output of hundreds of Watts. However, their power is limited to prevent the anode from melting. For capturing a sharp image of a fast-moving object, you might need a lot more power. This is where Flash X-ray instruments come into play. Operating in the kV and kA range, they deliver a power output of several million Watts.

Minimized Motion Blur
A continuous X-ray source can cause motion blur if not properly gated or if a fast detector isn’t used. Even at speeds of 1m/s (3.6 km/h), a 200ms exposure time allows the object to move 0.2 m. To address these issues, a very short and intense X-ray pulse can be used. By minimizing the detector exposure time, motion blur is minimized. By increasing the intensity, sufficient statistics can be gathered during this short exposure period.

Flash X-rays produce peak powers of millions of Watts as they sacrifice the ability to operate continuously. A flash X-ray source delivers a 20-35 ns X-ray pulse with kV and kA power. This slowly deteriorates the anode, which needs to be exchanged usually in the range of tens of pulses. But as you are only interested in that one dynamic image per flash, this is not a problem.

Photographs of a fan in motion with shutter speeds of 1/500s, 1/1000s and 1/2000s. Note how the fan blades increase in sharpness as the shutter speed decreases.

Flash X-ray of a fan in motion with an effective shutter speed of 20ns.

Application areas

How are flash X-rays used for crash and impact investigations?

To illustrate the technique of Flash X-ray technology, we captured the crash of an egg hitting the floor. This MAT (multi-anode tube) flash X-ray sequence of images show the egg collides with the surface of the floor, the shell breaks, and flash X-rays make it possible to monitor the interior of the egg. You can now see how the air bubble moves from the side to the top during the dynamic event. The series of images reveals the possibility to capture information from a moving object that just isn’t possible to deduce from a post-mortem examination of the object under study.

Even if the egg measurement a simple experiment, it demonstrates the possibility of monitoring the effects of helmets or air bags during collisions or how the interior of a mobile phone is affected when it’s dropped. Even if you where a helmet you can get brain damage, now why is that? A study of 6,000 cases reveals that, even if 70% of injured patients were wearing bullet-proof helmets and other individual protective equipment, 50% was found to have suffered brain injuries.  (Rafaels, Journal of Forensic Sciences, 60(1)(2015)219). Norbert Faderl and Marvin Becker at the French-German Research Institute of Saint Louis have constructed an instrument described in Proc. of SPIE 10999(2019)10990L-1, containing a Scandiflash MAT300  system that can be used to study why. The series of X-ray images below shows the helmet during bullet impact of 770 m/s. The images are recorded with a 20-microsecond time interval between each image. Read more here.

Are flash X-rays used for electromechanical device studies?

There are many types of electromechanical devices where the moving parts are located inside a protective casing of metal or plastics. Flash X-ray imaging allows you to observe dynamic events occurring inside the device without removing or changing the casing material. In our example shown here, we are able to freeze motion and observe the interior of a hand drill during operation.

How are flash X-rays used to study ballistics, detonics and blast events?

Flash X-ray radiography, a powerful tool in the study of ballisticsdetonics, and blast events, provides a unique insight into the behavior of projectiles and the dynamics of explosions. When an explosion occurs, it releases a significant amount of energy in a very short time, propelling projectiles at high speeds and creating smoke and fire. Flash X-ray imaging, with systems like the SCF150SCF300SCF450450S, and 1200, allows us to see through this chaos, offering a clear view of the event’s interior.

This technology is particularly beneficial in understanding the internal dynamics of these events, contributing to the design and performance improvement of projectiles, and enhancing our understanding of explosion physics. Moreover, Flash X-ray imaging plays a crucial role in armor development. It provides a clear view of the interior dynamics of a projectile’s impact, helping researchers understand how different materials respond to such impacts. This invaluable information aids in the design and improvement of armor to better withstand these forces, leading to the development of more effective protective gear for various applications, including defense-related equipment and personal protective equipment.

So, whether you’re studying the physics of explosions or developing the next generation of armor, Flash X-ray imaging is an indispensable tool in your arsenal.


High-speed flash X-ray cinematography catpures ricochet phenomena at 820 m/s. Click the image to view the article. 


High-speed image sequences reveal motion. Click the image to view the article.

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