The science and technology of seeing what is going on in the human body is extremely fascinating. Taking an X ray and reviewing it is one of the methods used to help health care professionals to diagnose and treat their patients. The history of X-ray seems to have all started on November 8, 1895, when Professor Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen accidentally discovered that an image cast from his cathode ray generator went beyond the range of the cathode rays.
Further studies showed that these beams were not deflected and that they penetrated many kinds of matter. It is said, that a week after this discovery, Rontgen took an X-ray of his wife’s hand which showed her ring and her bones clearly on the X-ray. Rontgen’s discovery ignited the public and furthered the scientific quest regarding this new form of radiation. Rontgen called this new form of radiation, X-radiation. X stands for “unknown”. In Germany X-rays are called Rontgen-rays.
With Rontgen’s discovery in mind we must not forget to give credit to the many names and scientific studies prior to Rontgen’s work that lead up to this event. Names such as:
Dr. William Gilbert, 1540-1603. A physician to Queen Elizabeth and a Copernican disciple. His treatise De Magnate was published in 1600. This famous publication described Gilbert’s belief that the earth itself was a magnet which interacted with a compass needle and other magnets. Gilbert also made other contributions to the historical progress of the development of X-ray.
Otto von Guericke, 1602-1686. He was also a Copernican disciple. Forty years after Gilbert’s death Guericke took great interest in Gilbert’s work. In 1646 he constructed the first air pump to create a vacuum to substantiate his belief that the heavenly bodies he observed with Galien telescope had to be moving in empty space. If there was air the bodies would slow to a stand still.
Evangelista Torrilcelli, 1608-1647. Was invited by Galileo who was then blind and experiencing old age to become his secretary and companion for a few months prior to his death. Later Torrilcelli became the successor to the chair of Mathematic in the Academy of Experiments. He pondered why was it a pump could not withdraw water higher than 33 feet? From his studies and research the barometer was invented in1642.
Other names included in the history of X-ray are:
Jean Picard, Francis Hauksbee, Stephen Gray, Charles Dufay, Peter von Musschenbroek,
Hans Christian Oerstek, Michael Farday, James Clark Maxwell, Hermann von Helmholtz
Heinrich Heitz, Heinrich Gussler, Julius Plucker, John Hettorf, William Crookes and Phillip Lenard. Over the years these men all made contributions to the historical development of X-ray.
X-rays are electromagnetic waves of short wave length, capable of penetrating some thickness of matter. Different tissues absorb X-rays at different rates resulting an different images on the X-ray film.
Bone is the most absorbent tissue due to its calcium content. On X-ray, bone tissue looks white on X-ray film.
Fat and other tissues are less absorbent and they appear gray on X-ray film.
The history of the development of X-ray goes back to many years and many people have contributed to its success and to the vital role X-ray plays in today’s health care system.