Material separation in x-ray CT with energy resolved photon-counting detectors

Xiaolan Wang, Dirk Meier, Katsuyuki Taguchi, Douglas J. Wagenaar, Bradley E. Patt, Eric C. Frey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The objective of the study was to demonstrate that, in x-ray computed tomography (CT), more than two types of materials can be effectively separated with the use of an energy resolved photon-counting detector and classification methodology. Specifically, this applies to the case when contrast agents that contain K-absorption edges in the energy range of interest are present in the object. This separation is enabled via the use of recently developed energy resolved photon-counting detectors with multiple thresholds, which allow simultaneous measurements of the x-ray attenuation at multiple energies. Methods: To demonstrate this capability, we performed simulations and physical experiments using a six-threshold energy resolved photon-counting detector. We imaged mouse-sized cylindrical phantoms filled with several soft-tissue-like and bone-like materials and with iodine-based and gadolinium-based contrast agents. The linear attenuation coefficients were reconstructed for each material in each energy window and were visualized as scatter plots between pairs of energy windows. For comparison, a dual-kVp CT was also simulated using the same phantom materials. In this case, the linear attenuation coefficients at the lower kVp were plotted against those at the higher kVp. Results: In both the simulations and the physical experiments, the contrast agents were easily separable from other soft-tissue-like and bone-like materials, thanks to the availability of the attenuation coefficient measurements at more than two energies provided by the energy resolved photon-counting detector. In the simulations, the amount of separation was observed to be proportional to the concentration of the contrast agents; however, this was not observed in the physical experiments due to limitations of the real detector system. We used the angle between pairs of attenuation coefficient vectors in either the 5-D space (for non-contrast-agent materials using energy resolved photon-counting acquisition) or a 2-D space (for contrast agents using energy resolved photon-counting acquisition and all materials using dual-kVp acquisition) as a measure of the degree of separation. Compared to dual-kVp techniques, an energy resolved detector provided a larger separation and the ability to separate different target materials using measurements acquired in different energy window pairs with a single x-ray exposure. Conclusions: We concluded that x-ray CT with an energy resolved photon-counting detector with more than two energy windows allows the separation of more than two types of materials, e.g., soft-tissue-like, bone-like, and one or more materials with K-edges in the energy range of interest. Separating material types using energy resolved photon-counting detectors has a number of advantages over dual-kVp CT in terms of the degree of separation and the number of materials that can be separated simultaneously.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1534-1546
Number of pages13
JournalMedical physics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2011


  • CT
  • K-edge
  • material separation
  • photon-counting detectors
  • spectral CT

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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