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3D X-ray Video Shows Movement of a Weevil’s Hip Joint

Since their very beginning, motion pictures were used to study the movement of humans and animals. In fact, one of the first movies ever made — if not THE first — was used to find out whether all four hooves were ever simultaneously off the ground as horses ran. The movie, made by Eadweard Muybridge in 1878, showed that indeed they were:

Now — 136 years later — scientists are still using motion picture technology to answer questions about animal movements. Although today’s questions are more complex, so is the technology, which allows us to see in three dimensions and inside the animals themselves.

So let’s ask, for example, how does the hip joint of a crawling weevil move?

The answer is provided by a new technique to record 3D X-ray films that shows internal movement dynamics in a spatially precise manner. Scientists at the Karlsruher Institut für Technologie applied this technique to a living weevil and generated complete 3D film sequences in real time or slow motion, and the results have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In vivo cine-tomographic sequence of moving S. granarius weevil based on the overview scan.

Animation of 3D motion field computed from 0- and 130-ms time frames showing rotation of trochanter accompanied with its translation inside coxa.

“To produce highly resolved tomograms at such recording speed, we had to adjust every setting screw, from the X-ray source to the pixel detector and we optimally attuned all process steps to each other,” said Tomy dos Santos Rolo, a doctoral student who is the leading developer of the experimental setup.

By making the 3D image frequencies approach the image rates known for 2D videos, he reached the world record in high-speed tomography — that is, a real 3D film with microscopic magnification.

From the X-ray source to movement analysis, all process stages are designed to filter out image noise without reducing contrast. This also applies to the mathematic algorithms optimized for radiography.

Researchers can use this technique in the future to analyze the internal biological processes of other small organisms, such as insects, spiders, and crustaceans.

Read more at:

3-D X-ray film: Rapid movements in real time

In vivo X-ray cine-tomography for tracking morphological dynamics


  1. Amazing! Great post – especially love the intro showing how far we have come since the earliest film.

    Very interested in this process for capturing full 3D kinematics.

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