Highlights:

  • Back in 1895, Physicist Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen accidentally discovered X-rays.
  • Rontgen was testing whether cathode rays could pass through glass when he noticed a glow coming from a nearby chemically coated screen.
  •  Rontgen holed up his laboratory and did several experiments to better understand the discovery.
  • Scientists were quick to realize the benefits of X-rays but little were they aware of the harmful effects of radiation.
  • Back in the 1930s to 1950s, many shoe stores in America featured shoe-fitting fluoroscopes that used X-rays.
  • For his accidental discovery of X-rays Rontgen had received several awards including the First Nobel prize in Physics 1901.

Back in 1895, on November 8, Physicist Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen accidentally discovered X-rays that are significant to advancement benefiting a variety of fields, most of all medicine, by making the invisible visible. He is the first person to observe X-rays and his discovery occurred accidentally in his Wurzburg, Germany, laboratory 125 years ago. Today, the globe observes the day as the International Day of Radiology.

Rontgen was testing whether cathode rays could pass through glass when he noticed a glow coming from a nearby chemically coated screen. He dubbed the rays that caused this glow X-rays because of their unknown nature. X-rays are electromagnetic energy waves that act similarly to light rays but at wavelengths approximately 1,000 times shorter than those of light. Rontgen holed up his laboratory and did several experiments to better understand the discovery. While experimenting, he mastered that X-rays penetrate human flesh but not higher substances like bone or lead and that it can be photographed.  

Scientists were quick to realize the benefits of X-rays but little were they aware of the harmful effects of radiation. The scientist then had thought X-rays passed through flesh as harmlessly as light. However, after several years, researchers began to report cases of burns and damages after being exposed to X-rays. In 1904, Thomas Edison’s assistant, Clarence Dally, who was working extensively with X-rays, died of Cancer. His death led to the beginning of taking the risks of radiation more seriously, but they still were not understood fully. 

Back in the 1930s to 1950s, many shoe stores in America featured shoe-fitting fluoroscopes that used X-rays to enable customers to see their bones in their feet. In the 1950s the practice was determined to be risky for business. For his accidental discovery of X-rays Rontgen had received several awards including the First Nobel prize in Physics 1901. Even after receiving the Nobel Prize he was modest and never tried to show off his discovery. Today, X-ray technology is widely used in medicine, material analysis, and devices such as airport security scanners.

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