YOU MIGHT CALL IT "FRACtals against fractures." Raj S. Acharya of the State University of New York at Buffalo has developed an improved method for early detection of osteoporosis by measuring the so-called fractal dimension of the bone's honeycomb structure. A bone's fractal dimension is an index of the complexity of its structure. In osteoporosis, the bone's honeycomb starts to break down. This degeneration shows up as a smaller fractal dimension when a digitized X-ray or magnetic-resonance image of the bone is fed into a computer.
Fractals indicate the onset of osteoporosis long before there is a measurable decline in bone mass--the most commonly used indicator of the disease. The associate professor of electrical and computer engineering isn't the first scientist to try measuring the fractal dimension of bone. But he says others had poor accuracy because they used a linear method. He created nonlinear algorithms based on "mathematical morphology," a branch of image processing developed in France to study rocks.