Wilhelm Rontgen Discovers X-Rays - 11/8/1895

World History |


Today in history, a German mechanical engineer and physicist by the name Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen (27 March 1845-10 February 1923) discovers X-rays. He was the first person to detect electromagnetic radiation in a wavelength known as X-rays or Rontgen rays. This been a major breakthrough in the advancement of science will later benefit several fields most especially medicine. Rontgen made this discovery by accident in his lab in Wurzburg, Germany during a test to see whether cathode rays can pass through glass when he noticed a fluorescent effect emitting on a chemically coated cardboard screen nearby. Because of the unknown nature of the rays, Rontgen named the glow X-rays because "X" represent unknown in mathematical description. 

The electromagnetic energy waves act similarly to light rays but in 1,000 times shorter than that of light. Unsure of his discovery, he began conducting a series of experiments to understand his discovery. Rontgen decided to work on the project in secret because of his professional reputation in case the research turns out to be an error. He found out that X-rays easily penetrate into human flesh. After two weeks of experiment, he decided to take the first picture by using his wife Anna Berta's hand. It was recorded that when Anna saw the skeleton picture of her hand, she exclaimed, "I can see my death."

The discovery was tagged a "miracle" in the medical field, making X-rays an important diagnostic tool in medicine, because it allows doctors to see clearly into the human body without the need of surgery. In 1897, X-rays was officially tested during the Balkan War to look for bullets and fractured bones inside wounded soldiers.

Having realized how important the discovery is to humanity, yet scientists were not able to realize the harmful effect of radiation. At first, scientists believe since light is harmless to the human flesh therefore, X-rays cannot be harmful. However, it did not take long before researchers began reporting cases of skin burns and injuries after long exposure to X-rays. In addition, the death of Clarence Dally (Thomas Edison's assistant) who died of skin cancer because of her extensive work with X-rays caused some scientists to studying the electromagnetic radiation closely and then taking the risks of radiation seriously, though little was known on how to go about it. 

From 1930-1950, as part of business strategies, many of the American shoe stores even featured shoe-fitting fluoroscopes made of X-rays to allow shoe buyers to see the bones in their feet. However, the practice was later stopped in the 1950s when it was confirmed that the practice it very risky.

In 1901, Wilhelm Rontgen was the very first to win a Nobel Prize in Physics for his extraordinary services he has rendered by the discovery of the X-rays. Rontgen never tried to patent the discovery. 

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