Nano-CT of a sugar cane leaf

Above: A rotation movie of a 3D volume reconstruction of a dried sugar cane leaf.

Below: A 3D volume image and 2D virtual slice through the leaf.

A 3D volume image and 2D virtual slice through a dried sugar cane leaf

Instrument used: Gatan X-ray Ultra Microscope 

The leaf was collected from a fully grown plant on a sugar cane estate in São Paulo, Brazil. The distinct, bright areas in the nano-CT image show small concentrations of the mineral silica, called phytoliths (phyto - plant, lith - stone), just beneath the surface of the leaf. Many grasses contain phytoliths to maintain structural rigidity and to provide resistance against pests and disease.

During harvesting, sugar cane plants are burned to get rid of the leaf trash and make the process of cutting more efficient. Jennifer Le Blond, the researcher working on this material, is interested in what happens to the phytoliths during burning - whether they can change into a type of silica (cristobalite) considered toxic to humans and become a potential danger to people breathing in the smoke. 

This is particularly significant as many silica-rich grasses, such as sugar cane and miscanthus grass, are being considered in the pursuit to find sustainable, renewable fuel sources to replace fossil fuels.


The Museum retains copyright on all scans of our specimens. Their use is subject to the Museum’s copyright policy on images. All Museum specimen scans will be archived and can be obtained with permission from the collection curator. Stereolithography and 3D printing are not permitted without prior permission from the curator.