Imaging and modeling of flow in porous media using clinical nuclear emission tomography systems and computational fluid dynamics

Rostyslav Boutchko, Vitaliy L. Rayz, Nicholas T. Vandehey, James P. O'Neil, Thomas F. Budinger, Peter S. Nico, Jennifer L. Druhan, David A. Saloner, Grant T. Gullberg, William W. Moses

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper presents experimental and modeling aspects of applying nuclear emission tomography to study fluid flow in laboratory packed porous media columns of the type frequently used in geophysics, geochemistry and hydrology research. Positron emission tomography (PET) and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) are used as non-invasive tools to obtain dynamic 3D images of radioactive tracer concentrations. Dynamic sequences obtained using 18F-FDG PET are used to trace flow through a 5cm diameter×20cm tall sand packed column with and without an impermeable obstacle. In addition, a custom-made rotating column setup placed in a clinical two-headed SPECT camera is used to image 99mTc-DTPA tracer propagation in a through-flowing column (10cm diameter×30cm tall) packed with recovered aquifer sediments. A computational fluid dynamics software package FLUENT is used to model the observed flow dynamics. Tracer distributions obtained in the simulations in the smaller column uniformly packed with sand and in the column with an obstacle are remarkably similar to the reconstructed images in the PET experiments. SPECT results demonstrate strongly non-uniform flow patterns for the larger column slurry-packed with sub-surface sediment and slow upward flow. In the numerical simulation of the SPECT study, two symmetric channels with increased permeability are prescribed along the column walls, which result in the emergence of two well-defined preferential flow paths. Methods and results of this work provide new opportunities in hydrologic and biogeochemical research. The primary target application for developed technologies is non-destructive, non-perturbing, quantitative imaging of flow dynamics within laboratory scale porous media systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)74-81
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Applied Geophysics
StatePublished - Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Column flow
  • Imaging
  • Nuclear emission tomography
  • PET

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics


Dive into the research topics of 'Imaging and modeling of flow in porous media using clinical nuclear emission tomography systems and computational fluid dynamics'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this