Enlarge / A brightly lit tram in Glasgow encourages people to attend X-rays at the city’s hospitals in 1957. (credit: Joseph McKeown/Picture Post/Getty Images)
Imaging with X-rays is usually pretty disappointing.

The expectation is that, because the wavelength is short—wavelengths of 10nm are about 40 times shorter than those of blue light—you’ll see lots of features that you would otherwise have missed.

But in reality, mostly you get a blur.

This comes down to two problems: X-ray sources are not very bright, and that brightness fluctuates. Researchers are instead forced to compromise. You can either image quickly and cope with the noise of the light source, or you can image slowly and suffer from noise due to the sample shifting about.

Either way, you lose.
The second issue is that the optic hardware is pretty poor compared to the optics for visible light, so they simply don’t capture the X-rays that carry the finest details in the image.
So, you might as well have used a very good visible light imaging system or an electron microscope.

But researchers have now figured out how to greatly improve the performance of X-ray imaging.

All it takes is careful measurements of your X-ray source, a bit of scattered light, and lots of clever math.
Scattered pictures
Instead of sending X-rays through your imaging target and reading them on the other side, you can recreate an image using light that scatters back toward the source. The light that scatters from an object already carries all the information required to recreate an image of it: the scattering angle, amplitude, and phase of the light can be used to calculate the details of an object.
Instead of using poor-quality optics, you can simply put a big detector near the sample and capture the scattered light.
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