Applications of Micro-CT

What are the applications for Micro-CT?

Micro-CT (microtomography) instruments can scan a wide variety of samples.  One easy way to break down the types of applications for micro-CT is by separating them by instrument; those that scan living animals (in vivo) and those that scan everything else (ex vivo).  An explanation of the difference between in vivo and ex vivo systems can be found here.

The remainder of this article focus on applications for ex vivo micro-CT systems.


Applications for ex vivo micro-CT systems

We often tell customers that anything that can fit in a 150mm or smaller cylinder can be scanned on a micro-CT system.  Often, we have found that things we thought would turn out well haven’t been as exciting as we thought, and things that we thought would be relatively boring turn out much more exciting than expected.  It is best to scan it and see how the results come out; the results can be surprising!  Not everything that will fit into the cylinder will scan well though.  For example, a lead pipe won’t scan well due to its density and x-ray stopping power.

Learn more about how a micro-CT works.

Often people think that the next way to divide applications is material vs biological.  As traditional biological and material studies develop, the two fields often intersect and work together for each others’ advantage.  Material scientists help create better implants, sutures, valves, medical devices, and more.  The study of nature has often helped material scientist discover that nature has made a material or pattern that they can use to make better carbon fibers, adhesives, camouflage, cement, and more.  Also, for grant applications, different departments band together to fund a single core instrument for the university or research center.



Bone studies were one of the early adopters of micro-CT.  This make sense because it is an extension of the medical field into preclinical research.  Typical bone locations include the distal femur and proximal tibia, mid shaft of the femur, skull,  radius / ulna, hand / foot, biopsies, and more.  Again if it can fit into the system it can be scanned.  Typical studies include osteoporosis, arthritis, osteo-arthritis, implant studies (knee, hip, shoulder), the materials used in implants and their surface treatments, cancer, drug treatment, genetic anomalies, fracture repair…

mouse bone cut-away CTVox 1272
Micro-CT of a Mouse Femur


There is extensive software for analyzing bones as well.  Measurements such as bone volume, BV/TV, trabecular volume, trabecular thickness, bone surface, bone growth into implants, and more can be calculated for both the trabecular and cortical bones.

Mandible region

Another nature area to study using a microCT system is the jaw.  Teeth and mandibles can be scanned to look at dentin vs enamel, carry treatments, root canal studies – including the drills used to perform the procedure, bone quality in the jaw, implant studies, and more.

Micro-CT of a Bat Skull


Food Studies

There has been a push lately to use micro-CT more often in the food industry.  Typical applications include; effectiveness of drying, volume of air vs material in processed food, size of air pores, starch vs fat content in seeds and processed food, seed growth, composition of food (nuts, caramel, etc in candy bards), identification of foreign objects in food, effectiveness of different manufacturing processes…

Micro-CT of a Hot Dog

 Geological Studies

There is a wide range of applications in Geology including;  Core studies for oil exploration, fossils, sandstone, asphalt for road surfaces, geodes,

Micro-CT of Sandstone


Medical Devices

Micro-CT can be useful for looking at a variety of medical devices including stents, epi pens, rubber stoppers, replacement valves and more.  It allows the researcher to scan a fully assembled device to examine the interaction of all of the different components. Devices that have failed can be investigated without having to cut them open so they can be preserved for future studies. The scans can be reconstructed and printed on a 3D printer as well.

Cancer Studies

Numerous studies have been done on cancer using both in vivo and ex vivo micro-CT systems.  Drug effectiveness, arterial studies, growth rates and more can be  studied.

Breast Cancer Study

Advanced materials

Carbon fiber composites, woven and non woven materials, polymer mixes, and more can easily be scanned and analyzed using both micro-CTs and nano-CTs.  Analysis includes volume fractions, pore size distribution, fractal analysis, distance measurements and more.


High power and larger micro-CT are typically used when larger and denser samples need to be scanned.  For studying phones, batteries, chips, boards and similar electronic samples, higher kV tubes have an advantage because the x-rays they produce can get through more material.

Other applications:

Diamonds, leaches, wood, bugs, wine corks, eyes, hearts, tungsten stained samples, light bulbs, batteries, fuel cells, flowers, seeds, gum, cake…  Ok you get the idea, this is not a complete list.  It is a rough sketch of the many applications of micro-CT.  Our image of the month section has a variety of applications as well.  The best way to determine if your sample will work with micro-CT is to give it a try.  We would be happy to let you test drive the system by sending in a sample to us.  Call us at (610) 366-7103 to find out how micro-CT can advance your research.


How much does a micro-CT cost?

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