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An evaluation of spatial resolution of a prototype proton CT scanner.

  • Author(s): Plautz, Tia E;
  • Bashkirov, V;
  • Giacometti, V;
  • Hurley, RF;
  • Johnson, RP;
  • Piersimoni, P;
  • Sadrozinski, HF-W;
  • Schulte, RW;
  • Zatserklyaniy, A
  • et al.

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To evaluate the spatial resolution of proton CT using both a prototype proton CT scanner and Monte Carlo simulations.


A custom cylindrical edge phantom containing twelve tissue-equivalent inserts with four different compositions at varying radial displacements from the axis of rotation was developed for measuring the modulation transfer function (MTF) of a prototype proton CT scanner. Two scans of the phantom, centered on the axis of rotation, were obtained with a 200 MeV, low-intensity proton beam: one scan with steps of 4°, and one scan with the phantom continuously rotating. In addition, Monte Carlo simulations of the phantom scan were performed using scanners idealized to various degrees. The data were reconstructed using an iterative projection method with added total variation superiorization based on individual proton histories. Edge spread functions in the radial and azimuthal directions were obtained using the oversampling technique. These were then used to obtain the modulation transfer functions. The spatial resolution was defined by the 10% value of the modulation transfer function (MTF10%) in units of line pairs per centimeter (lp/cm). Data from the simulations were used to better understand the contributions of multiple Coulomb scattering in the phantom and the scanner hardware, as well as the effect of discretization of proton location.


The radial spatial resolution of the prototype proton CT scanner depends on the total path length, W, of the proton in the phantom, whereas the azimuthal spatial resolution depends both on W and the position, u-, at which the most-likely path uncertainty is evaluated along the path. For protons contributing to radial spatial resolution, W varies with the radial position of the edge, whereas for protons contributing to azimuthal spatial resolution, W is approximately constant. For a pixel size of 0.625 mm, the radial spatial resolution of the image reconstructed from the fully idealized simulation data ranged between 6.31 ± 0.36 lp/cm for W = 197 mm i.e., close to the center of the phantom, and 13.79 ± 0.36 lp/cm for W = 97 mm, near the periphery of the phantom. The azimuthal spatial resolution ranged from 6.99 ± 0.23 lp/cm at u- = 75 mm (near the center) to 11.20 ± 0.26 lp/cm at u- = 20 mm (near the periphery). Multiple Coulomb scattering limits the radial spatial resolution for path lengths greater than approximately 130 mm, and the azimuthal spatial resolution for positions of evaluation greater than approximately 40 mm for W = 199 mm. The radial spatial resolution of the image reconstructed from data from the 4° stepped experimental scan ranged from 5.11 ± 0.61 lp/cm for W = 197 mm to 8.58 ± 0.50 lp/cm for W = 97 mm. In the azimuthal direction, the spatial resolution ranged from 5.37 ± 0.40 lp/cm at u- = 75 mm to 7.27 ± 0.39 lp/cm at u- = 20 mm. The continuous scan achieved the same spatial resolution as that of the stepped scan.


Multiple Coulomb scattering in the phantom is the limiting physical factor of the achievable spatial resolution of proton CT; additional loss of spatial resolution in the prototype system is associated with scattering in the proton tracking system and inadequacies of the proton path estimate used in the iterative reconstruction algorithm. Improvement in spatial resolution may be achievable by improving the most likely path estimate by incorporating information about high and low density materials, and by minimizing multiple Coulomb scattering in the proton tracking system.

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