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The Discovery of X-Rays

On November 8th, we recognize radiography day to mark German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen's discovery of a new form of light: the X-RAY.

This groundbreaking discovery was entirely by accident and came about during Röntgen's experiments with vacuum tubes.


The Discovery Process:

Röntgen's findings occurred as he was recording his work with a cathode ray tube. He observed that the rays coming from the tube shone through a barrier made a shadow-like image on light sensitive paper on the other side of the barrier. He quickly discovered that these rays of light (which he called X-rays because he didn't know what they were) could pass through human tissue as well. On November 8, 1895, Röntgen captured an image of the bones of his wife's hand to prove his discovery. This breakthrough quickly spread across the globe resulting in Roentgen receiving honors for his work, including the Nobel Prize in 1901.

In its early days, doctors used X-rays on many patients without thinking about whether or not there might be harmful side effects of being exposed to them as radiation. Radiation is energy that comes from a source and travels through space at the speed of light (very fast). While doctors continued to use the X-rays, many scientists began to make note of their early suspicion that certain injuries were being caused because of X-rays. Today, we have a better understanding of the risks of X-rays and have created rules to lessen the amount of exposure as much as possible.


How X-rays Work:

X-rays can create images of bones, certain tumors and pneumonia in the lungs to help discover injury and disease. They can also discover bone and joint conditions, fractures, chest conditions, and foreign objects. As screenings are conducted, small amounts of radiation pass through your body and are captured on a special device to produce the image. The amount of radiation exposure differs based on the size of the area of the body being looked. On average, the dose of radiation is roughly the same you would receive in the general environment over the span of a week.


How X-rays Impacted Medicine:

The discovery of X-ray technology revolutionized the field of medicine providing a way to see the inside of structures of the human body without having to do surgery and cut a person open. This gave doctors new understanding of injury and disease. This discovery also paved the way for other imaging techniques, like MRIs and CT scans. With this discovery, health professionals gained the ability to thoughtfully come up with treatment plans for their patients. X-rays are used all over the world to discover a variety of health problems.


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