X-ray News

X-rays: 9 ½ facts aboutthe “unknown” radiation

9.5-facts about radiation

As we kick off 2022, we thought we take a break from our more serious, technical offerings, and share something a little lighter.  How about going over some facts that you may (or may not) know about X-rays?


1 – “I didn’t think. I investigated.” said Wilhelm Röntgen when asked what he first thought upon discovering X-ray in 1895.  He was awarded the inaugural Nobel Prize for Physics in 1901, and his discovery proceeded to change the course of medicine and science immeasurably.  We’ve been using his discovery to investigate ever since.

2 – The “X” in X-ray stands for “unknown.”  We understand them much better now than at the time of their discovery and now use them to reveal the unknown.

3 – X-ray machines were used in shoe stores as “fitting” machines.  Before the dangers associated with radiation were understood, systems like the Foot-o-Scope were used in better shoe stores to confirm the ideal fit of those new kicks.  Despite safety concerns, these machines could still be found in use well into the 1970s.  Oops!

4 – X-rays were once used for cosmetic hair removal. Hundreds of salons in Europe and the United States offered this treatment.  It was a high price to pay for beauty, and the practice persisted for decades after the dangers of radiation were understood.

5 – When her scientific work was put on hold during World War 1, Marie Curie wanted to do something to help the war effort.  Rather than develop weapons of war, she came up with the novel idea of placing an X-ray machine on the back of a van. It was deployed to the front lines to help surgeons save wounded soldiers. The very first x-ray van! Thank you, Madam, for the inspiration.

6 – Wilhelm Roentgen didn’t patent the discovery of the X-ray because he thought this technology would have a critical positive impact on society. He was right, and the world benefited enormously from the open use of his discovery. X-ray is considered the most important medical discovery in history. That’s pretty high praise considering the competition, but it speaks to the value of being able to see inside without having to otherwise disturb anything.

7 – The first x-ray image was of Roentgen’s wife’s hand. The beauty of that image, wedding ring and all, still inspires us today.  I actually marvel at the resolution of this inaugural image, not to mention its outsized influence on the century-plus that followed.

8 – Just weeks after Roentgen announced the discovery of X-rays, surgeons in Europe started using X-rays to find foreign objects inside patients. In 1895, the same year of its discovery, X-ray imaging saved the life of a soldier by locating a bullet lodged in his leg.

9 – The field of Paleoradiology involves the examination of antiquities using X-ray imaging.  It has changed the way we look at antique artifacts, like a corpse inside a Chinese statue, that can be carefully examined while remaining undisturbed.  Think Raiders of the Lost Ark, but without the raiding.  Even the works of Picasso have been better understood when examined by X-ray.  Imaging of his work “The Crouching Beggar” reveals a number of times that the artist changed his mind and revised the background landscape by painting over it.  And it was all done without damaging or disturbing this priceless painting.  I know, Picasso is not more paleo than Wonder bread, but work with me here.

9½ – X-rays are used every day to find defects in electronic assemblies –voids, shorts, counterfeit detection, etc.  They help us investigate, innovate, and develop the highest quality products across virtually every industry.  Once in a while we should stop, and take a look back at innovations such as the discovery and evolution of X-ray and X-ray machines.  It’s worthwhile to reflect on the influence of such technologies, both the good they have done as well as the harm they may have caused before they were fully understood.

Happy New Year to all.  While X-ray’s help us to see so much that is otherwise hidden from view, they can’t help us see the future.  Though the rays representing the coming year remain unknown as well, I’ll take a shot in the dark and guess that they are extremely bright.

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