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ETH - Eidgenoessische Technische Hochschule Zuerich - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich
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Published: 18.05.2006, 06:00
Modified: 17.05.2006, 21:39
The Paul Scherrer Institute’s annual review
New images from the inner workings

(per) The annual media conference of the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) on 9 May was not so much concerned with the facts and figures of the operation. Instead it was a show of work about the highlights of the past year. Attention focussed on imaging processes developed and used at the PSI. “Imaging processes are becoming increasingly important in research,” said spokesman Beat Gerber. He added that the Paul Scherrer Institute was at the very forefront in research on methods of this type.

Phase contrast microscopy, one of the PSI’s new developments, was shown on 9 May. This technique dramatically increases the resolution and contrast of classical X-ray images, and is especially suitable for imaging the soft tissues of the body. At the same time, the method uses less radiation than conventional X-ray methods. This makes phase contrast microscopy attractive for breast cancer examinations, for example. In addition it is usable in existing medical X-ray instruments, which could improve diagnosis with X-ray images in the future.

Resolution of a few microns

Another of the PSI’s new methods is X-ray micro-tomography. The images are created using the Swiss Synchrotron Light Source (SLS). Researchers from ETH, the PSI, the University of Zurich and the pharmaceutical company Novartis are using it to study the nature of the changes in the blood vessels in the brains of mice suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. To do this, the SLS provides three-dimensional images of the mouse blood vessels in the range from one to 15 microns. The scientists hope this will provide them with new knowledge about the cause of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Another success recorded by the PSI is neutron radiography. This enables researchers to make X-ray type images of objects without needing to destroy them. In contrast to X-rays, neutron rays penetrate even through heavy metals such as lead or uranium, while still rendering organic substances or water visible. For example the scientists can also use neutron rays to examine dinosaur bones.

Successful major installations

The PSI has achieved world fame through its imaging methods. The Synchrotron Light Source is particularly successful and is in great demand: it is considered to be one of the best installations of its kind in research and industry anywhere in the world.


A striking difference: The rat heart on the left was photographed using the new phase contrast microscopy, the one on the right with a conventional X-ray technique. (Photos: PSI) large

This is apparent in the user figures. According to Ralph Eichler, Director of the PSI, bookings for the protein structure determination beam lines are five times more than their capacity, even though the PSI commissioned a second beam line of this kind in early January 2005. A third measurement station of the same type is now being constructed. He said that the PSI had already gained 30 percent of industry funding for this. Last year a total of 1,400 researchers from 50 countries used the PSI and its major installations for experiments.

The Paul Scherrer Institute employs 1,200 staff itself, of which 45 percent are scientists. In 2005 the total expenditure was just under 270 million Swiss francs. 83 percent of the funds come from the Federal Government. The remainder is financed by third party contributions from industry and from publications, patents and licences. 225 million Swiss francs went into research. In the ETH Domain, the PSI is the leading house of the competence centre for energy and mobility.

The Paul Scherrer Institute’s web site:

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