Everything You Need to Know About the X-Ray and Its Accidental History

X-Rays have become staples in medicine helping doctors spot everything from broken bones to cancers.

Ah yes, the X-ray; a piece of medical technology that is tied to the broken bones of overly eager adolescence. From the dentist office to your general physician, at some point in your life, you have probably had to get some part of your body X-rayed.

SEE ALSO: WORLD'S FIRST 3D COLOR X-RAYS OF HUMAN BODY PRODUCED USING CERN TECHNOLOGY 

A staple now of modern medicine the X-ray has played a crucial role in tackling some of the most common and detrimental health risks that humans have faced.

X-rays are so important to medicine that they have woven their way into pop culture, appearing as a common tool accessible to just about everyone. Yet, how much do you really know about X-rays? And, do you actually know how an X-ray works?

X-ray Facts: From identifying broken bones to disease, the X-ray is one of the most useful medical advancements in history. It is also the oldest and most common form of imaging.

If you are baffled like the majority of the population, do not worry, today you are in luck. You are going to venture into the world and diverse history behind X-rays and gain further understanding in not just how they work but why they are such a powerful tool in the doctor’s office.

The short story of the X-ray is rather simple. Created by accident similar to the inventions of glues, X-rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation most well known for their ability to see through a person’s skin and reveal images of the bones beneath it. However, the innovations and uses of X-ray do not end there.

An Accidental History

Everything You Need to Know About the X-Ray and Its Accidental History
Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen. Source: Wikipedia

On November 8, 1895, physicist Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen made an accidental discovery that would change the course of history ultimately benefiting a variety of fields that range from the aerospace industry to the world of medicine. If anything this invention, as mentioned above, has impacted you in some way.  

X-ray Facts: X-rays can be divided into hard X-rays and soft X-rays. Because hard X-rays have higher energy and, therefore, higher penetrative ability, they are used in medical radiography and airport security.

In short, Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen discovered a way to make the invisible visible. Occurring during testing in a lab in Wurzburg, Germany, Rontgen was testing whether cathode rays could pass through glass when he noticed a glow coming from a nearby chemically coated screen.

Cathode rays are beams of electrons emitted from the cathode of a high-vacuum tube. These rays are the basis for a lot of modern technologies including one of the West’s favorite past-times, watching television.

Advertisement

X-ray Facts: Many objects in space emit X-rays, including black holes, neutron stars, the sun, some comets, supernova remnants, and binary star systems.

While experimenting with these chemically coated screens, Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen noticed an odd and unknown reaction to the screens; a glow radiating from the area when coming in contact with the rays.

This unknown nature is what sparked the name “X-ray” and after his accidental discovery, Rontgen was eager to understand what made these screens glow. His curiosity would eventually lead to the foundation needed to create a modern X-ray.

The X-ray was considered a “miracle of medicine"

Everything You Need to Know About the X-Ray and Its Accidental History
Taking Early X-rays. Source: Wikipedia

As mentioned above, X-rays are electromagnetic energy waves that act similarly to light rays, but at wavelengths approximately 1,000 times shorter than those of light.

X-ray Facts: Many objects in space emit X-rays, including black holes, neutron stars, the sun, some comets, supernova remnants, and binary star systems.

Advertisement

Through his experimentation, Rontgen and his team would discover that X-rays can not only penetrate human flesh to take a peek inside human anatomy but that the process could be photographed.

Dubbed the “miracle of medicine” Rontgen's discovery was revolutionary. It allowed doctors to see inside the human body without opening a patient up; think of that next time you go to the doctor.

The newly created X-ray created technology played an integral role on the medials side of the Balkan War.

X-ray Facts: Exposure from a dental X-ray is roughly the same as being exposed to 1 day of environmental background radiation.

X-rays are great. Radiation is Deadly.

Everything You Need to Know About the X-Ray and Its Accidental History
Source: Wikipedia 

Though scientists were quick to adopt X-ray technology, they were slow to understand the long term negative effect of radiation. It was not until 1904, when Thomas Edison’s assistant, Clarence Dally, passed away from radiation poisoning from long term X-ray use when researchers looked at the harmful effects of X-rays.

Advertisement

X-ray Facts: The common chest X-ray can be used to diagnose pneumonia, lung cancer, or pulmonary edema. An abdominal X-ray can detect bowel or intestinal obstruction, free air, and free fluid. X-rays can also detect gallstones or kidney stones.

 Nevertheless, this moment in history pushed researchers to put in the protective measures needed to keep people safe from the harmful effects of radiation. Today X-ray technology has expanded its reach beyond the realms of medicine, becoming important parts of security, design, engineering, and even military operations.  

How Do X-rays work?

X-rays are not your average piece of light-ray, the type of light you may be accustomed to everyday. In fact, humans cannot see X-ray the same way you may see the light that enters your room because of its shorter wavelengths.

Advertisement

X-rays have the unique property of passing through non metallic objects, including our own human tissues and organs. Basically, as mentioned above, an X-ray gives users the opportunity to go inside a patient without having to do surgery.

Everything You Need to Know About the X-Ray and Its Accidental History
Source: X-ray

X-ray Facts: There is no threshold in which radiation is considered totally safe. Even small doses of gamma and X-rays increase cancer risks, although by a small amount.

An X-ray machine produces the common “X-ray” photo after producing a very concentrated beam of electrons known as X-ray photons which in turn  travels through air, comes in contact with your body and is then displayed on metal film.

How many X-rays have to taken over your lifetime?  

Advertisement

Stay on top of the latest engineering news

Just enter your email and we’ll take care of the rest: