A Brief History
On December 28, 1895, the world of medicine and airport security were forever changed when William Roentgen published his paper describing the production of X-rays.
Digging deeper, we find Roentgen, a German physicist, having invented a machine to produce electro-magnetic radiation emitting X-rays.
Sometimes called Roentgen Rays in honor of their discoverer, his research and careful documentation led to Roentgen receiving the first Nobel Prize for Physics.
Quickly seizing the opportunity his research afforded him, Roentgen developed a way to pass X-rays through an object and onto a target material to create a picture of the inside of the material, most notably, the bones inside a person. His wife became the first person ever to be x-rayed.
Of course, the potential of such unprecedented ability to see into an object developed into one of the most important medical diagnostic tools available, and X-rays of lungs and bones and other organs are now incredibly common.
X-rays are used for a variety of industrial application in materials that are permeable to them. Unfortunately, x-ray radiation in excessive amounts is dangerous and many researchers and technicians were injured by them through radiation burns or getting cancer from overexposure. It is also extremely possible that patients that were exposed to excessive X-rays suffered genetic damage or got cancer.
Today, x-ray technicians wear protective (lead) aprons or leave the room during the exposure, watching from behind a lead shielded wall. Patients are frequently draped with lead protective pads, especially in the area of reproductive organs. Additionally, X-rays are now carefully regulated to provide the minimum amount of radiations needed for the test and are much safer than they used to be.
People born after the 1950s may not remember that x-ray machines were once found in shoe stores where customers and salesmen could see through the shoe exactly how the foot fit! This practice was quickly discontinued when the dangers were realized.
Finally, we can thank Herr Doktor Roentgen for supplying the movie and fiction industry with an endless assortment of x-ray vision devices and superheroes with x-ray vision! As to whether or not those x-ray glasses you see advertised in comic books really work, you will just have to order a pair and find out!
Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever owned x-ray glasses? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information on the historical significance of X-rays, we encourage you to read:
Gunderman, Richard B. X-Ray Vision: The Evolution of Medical Imaging and Its Human Significance. Oxford University Press, 2012.
And just for fun…
Demararis, Kirk. MAIL-ORDER MYSTERIES. Pocket Books, 2011.
The Original X-ray Spex – Amazing X-ray Vision! [Toy]. American Paper Optics.
The featured image in this article, one of the first medical images of X-ray use, is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or fewer. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1926.