Ad hoc devices, which Almajid and his colleagues painstakingly craft and assemble by hand, are designed to force pressurized oil, water or gas through slim cylinders of seemingly solid rock, which the scanners then analyze with X-rays.
Above – CT scanner in the lab of Anthony Kovscek conducts experiments meant to mimic the flow of liquids and gases deep underground. (Image credit: Ker Than)
"We try to visualize things that people say you can't visualize," said Kovscek, who is the Keleen and Carlton Beal Professor of Petroleum Engineering at Stanford. "It's happened more than once, where someone will say, 'Well, you just can't do it.' And I point to our results and say, 'Well, I beg to differ.'"
The lab experiments are intended to recreate, in miniature, the movement of various substances through vast rock formations and to provide real-world validation of computer simulations of the same processes. This type of experimentation and simulation has helped the United States move toward energy security by enabling the nation to tap vast reserves of previously inaccessible oil and natural gas, such as shale oil.