What Is a Beam Scan?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2019
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A beam scan uses a focused beam of energy to collect data about a target. This technology may be applied to a variety of fields, from laser image recording to navigation. Research and development in the field focuses on finding new applications, refining existing technology, and developing better protocols for safe and effective beam scanning. Manufacturers of equipment and supplies used for this purpose offer a range of products and it is also possible to order, or build, custom models.

This technology relies on advanced optics to focus and control the beam. It is possible to work with emissions across the spectrum, including visible light, infrared, and x-rays. If the device emits energy outside the visible spectrum, the beam scan equipment may generate colored light to allow the technician to monitor the beam’s movement. The light can also act as a warning to operators and people in the area, who can use it as a cue to stay out of the beam’s path.

One example of a beam scan can be seen in the use of therapeutic radiation for patients. A technician can precisely calculate the dose and location of the radiation with the assistance of a computer program. The program controls the device, directing radiation into the targeted area to attack a tumor or other medical problems. During the beam scan, the device may move to adjust the intensity and location, providing complete treatment.


Beam scanning is also used in image acquisition. Three dimensional modeling, for example, utilizes beam scanning to generate a very detailed digital version of a physical object. This information can be input into a three dimensional printer to generate a copy. Similar scans can also be used for activities like modeling spaces in digital form and generating detailed data on human movement by scanning runners. In the beam scan, detectors pick up the reflected energy and use it to collect data about the target.

This can also be a useful tool for navigation and archaeology. Beam scans can help people locate objects of interest or concern in an environment by picking up reflected energy with a detector. The narrow focus of the beam provides precision information about the target, because there is a reduced risk of scatter. Scanning systems are also used for automated navigation on devices like spacecraft to acquire information about landing surfaces and control the craft with micromovements for a safe, smooth landing.


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