Applications of X-ray synchrotron microtomography for non-destructive 3D studies of paleontological specimens
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Paleontologists are quite recent newcomers among the users of X-ray synchrotron imaging techniques at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF). Studies of the external morphological characteristics of a fossil organism are not sufficient to extract all the information for a paleontological study. Nowadays observations of internal structures become increasingly important, but these observations should be non-destructive in order to preserve the important specimens. Conventional microtomography allows performing part of these investigations. Nevertheless, the best microtomographic images are obtained using third-generation synchrotrons producing hard X-rays, such as the ESRF. Firstly, monochromatisation avoids beam hardening that is frequently strong for paleontological samples. Secondly, the high beam intensity available at synchrotron radiation sources allows rapid data acquisition at very high spatial resolutions, resulting in precise mapping of the internal structures of the sample. Thirdly, high coherence leads to additional imaging possibilities: phase contrast radiography, phase contrast microtomography and holotomography. These methods greatly improve the image contrast and therefore allow studying fossils that cannot be investigated by conventional microtomography due to a high degree of mineralisation or low absorption contrast. Thanks to these different properties and imaging techniques, a synchrotron radiation source and the ESRF in particular appears as an almost ideal investigation tool for paleontology.
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