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Teeth and Bones – A History of X-Rays

An x-ray is a form of electromagnetic radiation and can produce an image of somethings internal composition, especially parts of the body. Today, x-rays are often used in hospitals and other medical facilities in helping to diagnose broken bones and other issues. X-rays were initially discovered in the late 1800s by a German physicist. This discovery led to many advances in the field of radiology, especially in regards to medical use of x-rays.

In 1895, Wilhelm Rontgen, a German physicist, was the first person to discover and systematically study x-rays. Rontgen, was not however, the first person to observe the effects of them. In addition to being the first to systematically study them, he also gave x-rays their name. Rontgen came up with the name x-rays, but many people referred to them as Rontgen rays and still do so in some places, such as his native Germany, to this day.

Prior to Rontgen discovering x-rays, he had been studying and experimenting with Lenard and Crookes tubes. Rontgen found that there were x-rays emanating from the Crookes tubes which were experimental discharge tubes invented in the late 1800s. The scientists who invented Crookes tubes were studying cathode rays, or energetic electron beams, and they were first created in the Crookes tube. One of Rontgen’s initial reports when studying Crookes tubes was published in the Wurzburg’s Physical-Medical Society Journal. This report was published on December 28, 1895 and was the first report written on x-rays. Because the rays were unidentified, Rontgen referred the them as “x” rays and the name stuck.

Rontgen is also credited with discovering the medical use of x-rays. He actually made a picture on a photographic plate formed due to x-rays of his wife’s hand. This picture was the first photograph to exist of a human body part shown using x-rays. Once x-rays were discovered, further studying and research was done which led to more advances in the field of radiology. In the late 1800s, Thomas Edison researched the ability of materials to fluoresce when exposed to x-rays. He also created the fluoroscope, which became the standard for medical x-rays. Edison gave up on his research into x-rays in the early 1900s but x-rays continued to be used for medical reasons nonetheless.

With the discovery and widespread research into x-rays, it was also discovered that there were serious dangers that could result from the use of radiation. Hair loss, burns, and other issues started to be discovered shortly after the discovery of x-rays themselves. Once the dangers of radiation were discovered, steps were taken to create safe conditions for working with x-rays. Today, x-rays are widely used in the medical field and with the right precautions are safe.

Resources on the History of X-Rays:

  • History of Radiography – An article with detailed information on the history of radiography and x-rays.
  • German Scientist Discovers X-Rays – Information on the discovery of x-rays in the 1800s by a German physicist named Wilhelm Rontgen.
  • The First X-Ray – The discovery of x-rays and how they helped lead to a revolution in medical imaging.
  • Historical Overview of the Discovery of the X-Ray – A page that provides historical aspects regarding the discovery of x-rays in 1895.
  • Rontgen’s Discovery of X-Rays – An article from the American Physical Society on the discovery of x-rays by Wilhlem Rontgen.
  • History of X-Ray Technicians – Information on both the history of x-rays and the career of x-ray technician.
  • The Discovery of X-Rays – An overview of the discovery of x-rays from the Official Web Site of the Nobel Prize.
  • The Discovery of the X-Ray – A page with information on the discovery of x-rays by Rontgen in addition to information on the history of x-ray machines.
  • About X-Rays – An explanation of how x-rays are used, and what happens during an x-ray exam.
  • How Dangerous is Radiation? – A page explaining the dangers of being exposed to radiation, and how much radiation is safe.
  • Health Effects of Radiation – Understanding the health effects of radiation, including how it causes health effects, types of effects, and more.
  • Bone X-Ray – An explanation of how bone x-ray tests are performed, preparing for the test, and other information.
  • How X-Rays Work – An article that discusses exactly how x-rays work as well as the discovery of x-rays and other related information.
  • Science Education: X-Rays – Information on what medical x-rays are, how they work, when they are used, and associated risks.

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