Two researchers from a Beijing University have found a way to create 3D X-Ray images of some of the smallest blood vessels in the heart — by filling it with liquid metal.
Gallium is a metal which melts at 29 degrees centigrade, so it's liquid at the normal temperature of a human body. It's stable, doesn't react with water and is believed to be completely non-toxic, which makes it ideal to experiment with in living tissue.
The method — pardon the crude analogy —is a little like pouring liquid concrete down an anthill to study its internal structure. But the results are absolutely stunning.
The researchers, Qian Wang and Yang Yu, used pig hearts to create the images. The one on the left is injected with gallium while the other one uses a standard iodine-based contrast agent. The difference is obvious.
On the Physics arXiv blog, Wang and Yu say that this method will help to better understand the vascular system of the human heart. Also, since cooling the metal freezes it, you could in theory create a metallic mold to create a detailed solid copy of a heart's structure. Just, hopefully not my heart. [The Physics arXiv Blog]