1895: German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen is working in his laboratory in Würzburg when he accidentally discovers the X-ray.
Roentgen was conducting experiments with a Crookes tube — basically a glass gas bulb that gives off fluorescent light when a high-voltage current is passed through it — when he noticed that the beam turned a screen 9 feet away a greenish fluorescent color, despite the tube being shielded by heavy black cardboard.
Roentgen concluded, correctly, that he was dealing with a new kind of ray, one that cast the shadow of a solid object when passed through an opaque covering from its point of origin. Not knowing what kind of ray he was dealing with, exactly, led him to call it an X-ray. The name stuck.
To test his discovery, Roentgen made an X-ray image of his wife Bertha’s hand, clearly showing the bones of her hand and a pretty hefty wedding ring.
In the next couple of months, Roentgen published a paper about his discovery: “On a New Kind of Rays.” He made a presentation before the Würzburg Medical Society and X-rayed the hand of a prominent anatomist, who proposed naming the new ray after Roentgen.
X-rays are no longer a mystery, but a major tool of medical diagnosis.
Photo: Wilhelm Roentgen received the first Nobel prize for physics in 1901 for his discovery of X-rays. (Corbis)
This article first appeared on Wired.com Nov. 8, 2007.
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