South African research opportunities opened up with new microfocus X-ray and CT system


A brand new Nikon Metrology inspection system is now in use at the microfocus X-ray radiography/tomography facility (MIXRAD) of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa). It is the first high-precision microfocus X-ray/CT system made available to South African researchers, engineers and students, who can use this advanced technology free-of-charge. High-precision 2D radiography and 3D tomography renderings help them investigate diverse natural and industrial samples in a non-destructive fashion. With the microfocus X-ray/CT system readily available and upgraded neutron and new gamma radiation radiography/tomography laboratories underway, Necsa offers the edge in non-destructive inspection on a micron level. These investments greatly advance research on mineral deposits in South Africa, or help motivate the application for beam time at nano-level synchrotron facilities abroad, if needed.

Necsa recently took delivery of a new 225 kV microfocus X-ray/CT system from Nikon Metrology. The instrument has been acquired through South Africa’s National Research Fund – Research Infrastructure Support Programme (NRF-RISP). “Our new system helps academic and industrial researchers in South Africa study mineral deposit samples and advance paleontology, archaeology, geology, biology and energy, as well as numerous industrial applications, including mechanical and chemical engineering,” says Frikkie de Beer, Necsa
’s radiography/tomography chief scientist. “Making complementary advanced imaging methods accessible triggers more active cooperation with universities, research institutions and companies in South Africa and abroad.”

The Nikon Metrology system allows users to literally navigate through the 3D volumes of their samples. Pinpoint-sharp magnified 3D volume renderings make the difference in evaluating internal surfaces, material densities and other valuable material characteristics that would otherwise remain invisible. It is also possible to calculate the volumetric fraction and size distribution for any specific mineral material found in the sample.

The application reach of researchers and scientists using the system is impressive. To suit different user requirements, the Nikon Metrology XT H system can be adapted to characterise samples of different size, material and weight. For future upgrade of the current system delivered to Necsa, Nikon Metrology offers the quite unique capability of the system to have the X-ray source equipped with a rotating reflection target. This X-ray source set-up provides much better cooling performance, allowing increased X-ray flux to be generated in order to penetrate larger or denser samples.

Using the same electron beam, the machine can be set up to produce small focal spot sizes, such as spot sizes between 3 and 5 microns for reflection targets (as delivered to Necsa), 10 microns on rotating targets and 1 micron on transmission targets (two options considered by Necsa). This enables researchers to detect inclusions, voids or material properties in a resolution of about the spot size, highlighting the machine’s versatility.

The microfocus X-ray instrument in the MIXRAD facility places South African capabilities on a par with international standards,” De Beer concludes. “The South African research community benefits from this by developing high-level research expertise and changing the country’s socio-economic situation.”