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the Radon Transform Abstract: The use of x-ray “slices” to recover the density of a solid object is known as Computed Tomography, or CT scanning. Tomography is used in medicine, and the first successful combination of mathematics and instrument received a Nobel prize in physiology and medicine in 1979. The mathematical problem involved is called an “inverse problem” in analysis. Techniques for solving this problem using Fourier analysis methods were developed several times in the history of pure mathematics, but were not known in applied sectors in the U.S. until Cormack re-invented a solution in his paper from 1963. A 1917 paper by the mathematician Johann Radon was later found which extensively explored and solved this very problem on a purely theoretical level, and the resulting “Radon transform” has now become the most widely used method for performing the computations in modern tomographic equipment. A history of this inverse problem along with a little known applied Soviet solution from 1958 is presented, including an explanation of the mathematics used in each of the three solutions. Keywords: Fourier analysis, inverse problems, tomography, Radon transform. 1. Introduction: An important advance in medicine in the past half century has been the development of non-invasive imaging techniques of soft tissue for diagnosis. To uncover the internal structure of a solid, such as the human body, without having to disturb the integrity of the body with punctures or incisions, is an improvement in health outcomes for a variety of pathologies, for example, brain diseases (for obvious reasons). Subtleties of this improvement are attributable to reduced rates of infection and other insults of surgery as well as increased early detection of deleterious conditions such as tumors. This “reconstruction problem” occurs not only in medicine but in several other fields of science ranging from molecular biology to astronomy. The recovery of an internal property of an object, such as density, involves some computational analysis which in turn requires specific techniques from applied mathematics. These applied techniques in turn use some deep results from pure mathematics, in the area of Fourier analysis. The mathematical problem is known as an inverse problem because it requires finding an inverse of a function mapping the unknown “density” function to its line integrals along all possible lines in a plane of interest (or hyperplanes in higher dimensions). This problem also intersects the field of integral geometry [6]. Finding the successful sequence of steps such as re-coordinatization of the plane, taking transforms, expressing functions as their Fourier series, and employing convergence factors and convolution, as well as other methods, is necessary for obtaining the solution. Computationally and practically, the problem has just begun when the pure mathematical solution is obtained. It is of course physically impossible to x-ray all possible lines in a plane. Additionally, the x-ray has finite width, the effects of

Lorentz is said to have known an inversion formula for three dimensions. suitably restricted. with some radiological applications. Africa to fulfill regulations [3]. Furthermore. as did a group of Soviet scientists in “radio-physics” in 1958. through the Soviet solution of 1958 and that done by Cormack in 1963. This paper will explore the progression of solutions of this mathematical problem from the pre-Dirac-delta-function days of Radon. This type of phenomena describe what is known as the “technically ill-posed” nature of the problem. and other mathematicians studied it after that [4]. The disconnection between pure and applied areas of mathematics has created an interesting story of re-discovery and an eventual return to a century-old theoretical technique. and described it in their Generalized Functions. by Johann Radon. and the line integrals of g along all straight lines intersecting D are known. two-dimensional domain D and is zero outside D. were familiar with Radon’s transform in 1966. it must be sought by considering [the line integral] along all lines intersecting [the plane of interest] and then seeing whether an approximate solution may be found by considering only a finite number of lines… The following problem is thus considered. and uniqueness and continuity issues may preclude the solution. Discritization of the projections is necessary. The official result for the two and three dimensional cases was published in 1917 by Johann Radon. al. real function g exists in a finite. Gel’fand et. Improving accuracy of measurements and noise reduction is a problem for engineering. 1917: Physicist Allan McLeod Cormack was asked to be a part-time nuclear physicist for a hospital in S.perturbations can be impossible to correct for. H. The pure mathematical solution had in fact been published. While exposed to this area of research he began to pose some questions. These physicists could not find any pure mathematical results dealing with this inverse problem. Modern computational methods used in tomography will then be reviewed. In 1973. Radon. but the author has found no reference to it in standard works [2]. The Nobel prize in physiology and medicine 1979 was awarded to two mathematical physicists for (independently) solving the mathematical problem and creating a machine to perform the tomography successfully. It was not until the 1970’s that Cormack learned of Radon’s solution to this very problem [4]. in German in 1917. “One would think that this problem would be a standard part of the nineteenth century mathematical repertoire. he states the basic problem: “These considerations suggest that if a solution to the problem can be found at all. An unknown. Cormack . (after realizing its existence). Radon transform theory has since proved to be the effective mathematical method of computing the unknown density function from its integrals along all lines. and iterative methods are often employed. Cormack and Hounsfield solved this inverse problem. using the Central Slice Theorem [6].” In fact. at the computational level. Creating their own methods. which resulted in a paper in the Journal of Applied Physics in 1963 entitled “Representation of a function by its line integrals. Lorentz is said to have known of a solution at the turn of the 19th century. Is it possible to determine g?” This last sentence is followed by the comment. this problem was visited by nineteenth century mathematicians.” In this paper. 2.

cited Radon’s paper as being essential to reconstruction problems. That is. it is reasonable to suspect that Radon may have been considering the practical problem of xray reconstruction himself. but he proceeded to solve the problem in the following way: Defining a line. and he did so again in his 1979 Nobel prize address.” [9]. his result can be appreciated as purely mathematical. f(P). Radon writes. and having the equation Rotation of the line through all angles. Upon consideration of the close ties mathematics and physics maintained at this time. this circular average can be expressed as Then. However. . He then writes. only 22 years before Radon’s paper was published [6]. He describes a point function. by solving an Abel-type integral equation. answers to the following questions are given: Is every line-function that satisfies suitable regularity conditions obtainable by this process? If this is the case. keeping the line tangent to a circle. which is used in the modern solution.” and designates as F(g) the values of these integrals. will cover a complete revolution around the circle and the line integrals can give us the circular average of the unknown function. tangent to a circle at the origin. “The value of f is completely determined by F and can be computed as follows: ” [9]. and his theory was developed along these lines by Gel’fand et al. Radon posed this very problem in the introduction of his paper. However. It has been assumed that Radon was exploring this problem simply out of theoretical mathematical curiosity [4. in the plane.y) and radius q. “The problem that is solved in …this paper is the inversion of this functional transformation. 8]. is the point function f then uniquely determined by F and how can it be found?” [9]. If a circle has center P = (x. while. in 1966 [4. integrated “along an arbitrary straight line g. 6]. “On the determination of functions from their integrals along certain manifolds. Radon did not have at his disposal the use of more recent and advanced methods such as incorporation of the delta function. we can find F and we have the inverse solution. the x-ray had been discovered by William Roengten in 1895.

B is the number detected upon exiting a homogeneous material. Thus if A is the number of photons emitted by the source. 7]. The diminishing of the number of photons in an x-ray beam after passage through identical plates.3. and has a given number of photons initially. (From [6]). An x-ray beam is emitted by a source. of a beam at a distance s from its point of entry into a homogenous material has been found to closely follow the following formula: . Figure 1. the amount of photons was found experimentally to decrease with amount of distance traversed [6. Photon detectors passing through each plate are placed on the plates on the side of the plate where the beam exits. The intensity. The Applied Problem: An Overview: An x-ray beam can be thought of as a collection of photons traveling along a straight line. A classical experiment to test for this phenomenon is the assembly of a series of identical plates (identical in size. The number of photons that “survive” after passing through each plate has been found to decrease at a consistent rate (see Figure 1) [6]. By differentiating. This is called the “global version” of the Lambert-Beer law. denoted by I. Intensity is defined to be the number of photons present per second per unit of crosssectional area. we can obtain the “local version. then . and is defined as the number of photons lost divided by the distance traveled. thickness and composition).” . This loss of photons from the beam is known as attenuation[6]. For such a beam traveling through a homogenous material. The attenuation of x-rays is frequently denoted by µ. and s is the distance traveled.

From the above equation we can see why µ is often called the attenuation coefficient.” in the mathematical sense [6]. we can rearrange the previous differential equation. with black representing the least attenuation and thus the lowest density. Attenuation is caused by scattering and absorption of the photons by the material. This is closely related to the density of the material. among other physical factors. can we then recover the density of the material at each point in our 2-dimensional object? In other words. integrate. If the source of the x-rays is moved. 6. a series of these projections is obtained. The right side of the equation above can be computed directly from the experimental results from the ratio of intensity emitted to intensity detected. knowing enough values for can we recover µ(x. as are most radiologists)[6]. especially when using corrective algorithms for the other factors. and perform a change of variables to obtain: . However. we can obtain a good approximation of density from µ. respectively.y) [4.y) that assigns to each point (x. The problem then becomes the following: If we know the value of a sufficient amount of these line integrals. The integral of µ along L is the total attenuation of the material along L. letting L be a line through the object along which the beam travels. or total “densities” along a x-ray beam path. .7]. we must rigorously define what we mean by “object. (and when we have experience with connecting the values of the attenuation coefficient to certain types of materials. and I0 and If be the intensity of the beam emitted and detected. The values can take on any range. Figure 2 shows an example of an object and the associated grayscale [6]. From this local formula we can see that the attenuation coefficient is a property of each point in each different material type within an inhomogeneous solid.y) is µ(x. Now.y) a grayscale value representing an attenuation value (density value) for the material at that point. and this is called a profile [4. and white representing the greatest values. The local version works for inhomogeneous materials as long as the intensity function is relatively smooth. Choosing units so that the range is from zero to one is often useful. Thus we can define a point function on a two-dimensional object with varying composition whose attenuation value at that point (x. and results in what is called a projection.y)? What is the sufficient number of such lines? In order to begin to answer these questions. It also depends on the energy of the beam and the types of atoms in the material.. Definition: A two dimensional “object” is a density plot of the function f = f(x. 7].6.

it is useful to consider the Radon transform as a function of two variables. has come to be known as the Radon transform.Figure 2. If we then take the line integrals perpendicular to each radius through all real numbers on the radius. The 2-dimesional object f representing an abdominal cross section. one line through each sub-square. we have that the function on either side of each radius is symmetric. we see that only 2n-1 of these equations are independent [2]. and denoting the region between a finite number of radii as n = {0. a problem in the applied solution. of course. …}. 6. Let our region of interest be a square of side length n. and the grayscale used to denote the values for f(x. This is. but we can approximate the infinite set with an appropriate sample of lines to within a desired error [6. along the radii of a circle. The information we need to obtain is more clearly evident in such a graph [6]. The line integral along one line is called a single Radon projection or xray projection [4. If we attempt to take the values of the line integrals along parallel lines in each perpendicular direction. However. To find the mathematical solution to the inverse problem. although similar reasoning was undoubtedly used by Radon and others. (From[6]). To understand how many line integral values are necessary to reconstruct our “density” function.y). and let our density function be cos(nπ). Assume our density function takes on its average values in each sub-square. The above object is an example of a density plot. Taking the perpendicular vector from the origin to our line in question. for instance. and because the sum of the values in one direction must equal the sum of the values in the other direction. we must consider our inversion to act on the entire infinite set. and thus the value of the line integral is zero for all such lines. and divide the square into n2 sub-squares. 7. From these attempts we come to the conclusion that the density function can only be reconstructed from the infinite set of line integrals along all possible lines intersecting the object [2. the density function is not zero anywhere on the object [2]. The set up of the x-ray machine provides intuition about how to describe it this way. In this type of graph. Since the object is a function of two variables. we define our line uniquely by the (directional) length of . Letting our object be a circle. for all lines intersecting the object. 1. The set of line integrals of a point-function defining an object. we have alternating values of positive and negative one in the regions. Now we try to take a larger number of lines. we will have 2n equations with n2 unknowns. we shall use a thought experiment based on one used by Cormack. 8] . 2.7]. the values of a function of two variables is plotted using the grayscale rather than the three dimensional graph using the triple axis as is often done in the multivariable calculus. 9].

Radon also defined his lines in this way. The image obtained from a complete scan. The parallel scanning set-up. were considering this problem in 1958 [1]. as in Figure 4. [8].11]. or from the line integral values for a complete revolution. The mathematical problem is posed as such: .”[9]. 4. Modern scanners use fan beams.6. We now explore some of the mathematical and technological solutions to this reconstruction problem. The original CT scanners were set-up using a series of parallel beams that rotated together around the object. [6]. The experimental design involved a rotating object that was subject to a narrow fan beam of x-rays and whose output was recorded using a film parallel to the axis of rotation [5]. Figure 4. Interestingly. (From[6]. Soviet Union. and noted that the set of those lines through the origin which are not definable by this method form a “set of linear measure zero.9. and the newest designs employ a helical x-ray source. Figure 5. which included physicists and mathematicians. 1958: A group of scientists at the Kiev institute.5. A sinogram of a simple object (a square). The scanner set-up and the associated definition of a line. is called a sinogram (Figure 5).4.the vector and its angle from the x-axis (or θ = 0 axis) [2. Figure 3.

and we are left with the one dimensional Fourier transform of the line integral transform (known now as the Radon transform). 1 from the 1958 Russian tomography article published by a research group from the Kiev Polytechnic Institute. 11]. This is essentially what is now called the Central Slice Theorem. we see that we can use the inverse Fourier transform formula. Thus the exponential term is constant with respect to the inner integral and can come out to the outer integral. Upon the consideration of the smoothness assumptions for our rearranged integral. It is . or Fourier Slice Theorem. along with other names [6. After taking a two dimensional transform of the unknown function. describing the mathematical and physical set-up. Fig. we see that we can consider the inner integral as the line integrals along lines defined by a perpendicular vector where the dot product of this vector and any point on the line is constant. [5]. Figure 6. The integral for this does not converge absolutely and thus the order of integration can not be interchanged.Here the scanner arrangement and definitions of the variables are described by a figure reproduced in Figure 6 below. 7.

φ). The final solution is included below: [5]. an integrator. f(ρ. we obtain our inversion formula. It is notable that the final result necessarily had to take a form that was passable to an analog computer used at the time. After removing a singularity by means of the Cauchy principle value for a singularity at zero. Here Tn is the Chebyshev polynomial and r is the distance along the line. g. [2] His final solution is of the form. by means of the perpendicular vector from the origin. allows him to make use of some of this type of polynomial function’s properties. . 4. [2]. he also uses the symmetry of the arc length along the line on either side of its intersection with the vector to simplify the expression [2]. After defining the same line as did Radon. Thus the formula had to be processable separately by a differentiator. Cormack then has to solve Abel’s equation. a multiplier.necessary to use a method of convergence factors. . For example. 1963-1964: Cormack approached his problem using the complex Fourier series for the unknown attenuation function. and an adder. The convergence factor e-δ|r| is used where r is one of the vectors. Cormack. as well as the known line integral function. The appearance of a Chebyshev polynomial of the first kind. using inherent properties of electrical currents.

.T. 11 ]. of the known Radon transform [5. Conversion from the 2D F. domain filtering using convolution . and the Central Slice Theorem. to the 1D F. illustrated in the figure below [11]. Figure 7. A filtering function is used. The central slice theorem. 7. or inverse object [12]: The Radon transform The inverse: backprojection Change coordinates (Cartesian => polar) Projection Theorem ( F_polar => G) Backprojection F.T. The Modern Version The modern algorithm uses the integral transform methods. and is assisted by recoordinatizing the plane to lines along which the inner product of the perpendicular vector and the points on the line are constant [8]. expresses the two dimensional Fourier transform of the unknown function as the one dimensional F. the method of convergence factors with the delta function. The inverse solution is found by the inverse F. The integral above does not converge.T. and thus must be solved using numerical methods.which reflects the advancements in computers since the time of the Russian paper.T. to average the noise values of the Riesz potential nature of the backprojection. by means of convolution. similar to the one used by the Russian group.T. [11]. 5. 6. of the Radon transform.

We can never know an infinite amount of line integral values..6.. and mechanical technological advancements have reduced scanning times of tens of milliseconds. Analytic Tomography. and Joy. 2006.2722-2727. American Mathematical Society. University of Arizona.11. New York. 1 (1958) 151-157. The Radon Transform.Radiophysics. Many applied algorithms exist to correct details related to physical phenomena and improve approximations [7]. The .. S. “Representation of a function by its line integrals.. clinical level [4. Bulletin of the Institutes of Higher Education . A.T. 3. “An introduction to X-ray tomography and RadonTransforms. a significant change from the hours it took for the scanners of Cormack and Hounsfield’s time [6].12]. pp. with some radiological applications. “Early two-dimensional reconstruction and recent topics stemming from it. Rogers.” found on the web at http://www. Markoe. B. A problem is said to be “well-posed (in the sense of Hadamard) if 1. E. “Historical note on computed tomography.. 2. S. The Problem Is Not Solved Now that we have some mathematical solutions. Applied Physics (1963): 34. M..M. 1983. Springer-Verlag.” (From Michael Renardy and Robert C. 8 December.T.M. and Quinto. and instability of solutions. and Tyutin. Prestini. E. Telel'baum. 1979. An Introduction Partial Differential Equations. Barrett. algorithm development. 5. and Quinto.G.G. "About one scheme of tomography".” Nobel Lecture. among other issues.I. Tucson. W.arizona. E. 2006. and Tomography. The Radon Transform and Some of its Applications. tomographic image reconstruction is ill-posed on the applied. Translated into English from Russian by H.” in Olafsson G.. 3. University of Arizona. Department of Radiology and Optical Sciences Center. E.” in Prestini.. Hawkins. the solution depends continuously on the data If these conditions do not hold. 7. Inverse Problems. 6. Cormack. . Korenblum.H.. Available at http://nobelprize.. Providence. there exists a solution. we have only solved half of the problem.pdf 4. Cambridge University Press. A. John Wiley & Sons. H.R.”The Radon transform and computerized tomography..8). The next step is in the computational and applied fields.html.L..7. 1993.edu/CGRI/russian/russian_papers. A. p. Tucson.radiology.. Olafsson G. Barrett. H. NewYork. eds.. a problem is said to be ill-posed.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1979/cormack-lecture. Modern methods of computing.A. References 1.. the solution is unique..” J. Due to the frequent lack of unique solutions. 8. Cormack. A. New York. 2. Deans. so the problem must be discretized.

pdf 12. Lohner. University of Maryland. Originally published in German in Berichte Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften 69 (1917) 262-267. Electrical and Computer Engineering. Found at http://www.” published on the web as Course Review for ENEE631 Digital Image Processing.. School of Mathematics.” published on the web under “meetings” by the American Association of Physicists in Medicine. “Lecture 22: Medical Imaging/2nd Course Review. Radon. 2004.org/meetings/99AM/pdf/2806-57576. Birkhauser.Evolution of Applied Harmonic Analysis. “Tomographic image reconstruction.edu/class/enee631. “On the determination of functions from their integrals along certain manifolds.umd. Min. Boston.ece.aapm. at www. . Wu. College Park. J. 9. in Appendix A of [4] above. Georgia Institute of Technology).” (translated from the German by R. 11.

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