X–rays were discovered in 1895 by Wilhelm Röntgen, a German physics professor working in a laboratory in the Physical Institute of the University of Würzburg. The X–rays cause the film to be exposed, and so if they are blocked, the film remains dark, hence producing a shadow of the denser parts of the body
2.1 The X-ray means Unknown
Roentgen named his discovery X-strahlen—strahlen being German for “beam” or “ray,” and “x” being used in mathematics to indicate an unknown quantity. Even though we now know much more about how x-rays work, their name has retained a sense of their original mystery. The rays have also been called “Roentgen’s rays,” and the images they produce are sometimes known as “roentgenograms.”
2.2 Are X-rays harmless?
In the early days, people thought x-rays passed through the body as harmlessly as normal light. It wasn’t until Thomas Edison’s assistant Clarence Dally, who had worked extensively with X-rays, died of skin cancer in 1904 that people started taking the health concerns about the new technology seriously.
Partly as a result of the perceived harmlessness—but mostly because of the novelty factor—there was a late-19th-century and early 20th-century vogue for x-ray machines, which started to appear at carnivals and as a curiosity in theatrical shows. The word “x-ray” was even added as a promotional gimmick to products like headache tablets and stove polish—part of a brief “x-ray mania” that saw the rays frequently mentioned in advertising, songs, and cartoons.
2.3 X-rays can treat Cancer
Early experimenters with x-rays noticed that the rays had a tendency to burn skin, a tendency made worse by the fact that older machines exposed people to much higher doses of radiation than today. But while overexposure to the rays can cause cancer, they can also cure it. Even back in Roentgen’s day, doctors were using x-rays to burn off moles. Besides being used for diagnosis, today narrowly focused beams of x-rays are used in some forms of cancer radiotherapy to destroy tumor tissues.
Constant breakthroughs in X-ray usage has led to increased accuracy of radiology, all while decreasing potential harm to medical professionals and patients alike. Advancements include ultrasounds (introduced in the 1950s) and CT scans (introduced in the early 1970s). CT scans combined the clarity of the X-ray with the precision of computers to produce an accurate cross-sectional image of the body. It’s undeniable that X-ray technology has changed the medical field forever. They have saved countless lives and helped doctors across the world to better understand human anatomy and physiology.
Figure 1. X-ray Basics
Figure 2. Normal X-ray of Human Chest
Sarkar, D. (2012) ‘Chest X-ray: Basics’, Available at: https://www.slideshare.net/DebabrataSarkar/chest-x-ray-basics
How X-Rays Changed the World (2017), Available at: https://blog.allstarxray.com/x-ray-machines/x-rays-changed-world/
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