Wilhelm Röntgen

The use of X-rays has made a great impact on the whole world. X-rays were discovered in 1895 by Prof. Wilhelm Konrad Roentgen of Germany at the age of fifty. At that time, he did not know what those rays were. As an unknown factor is called X in Maths, he named it X-ray. It is called Roentgen Ray too. For this discovery, he was awarded the Nobel Prize of Physics in 1901.

The discovery of X-rays is exciting. One day Prof. roentgen was experimenting with the electric discharge of gases in a cathode ray tube, a partially evacuated glass tube covered with black paper, in his laboratory room which was in complete darkness. He observed a crystal of barium platinocyanide lying near the cathode ray tube. When the tube was in operating, it emitted fluorescence. He then theorized that some unknown rays were passing through the covered walls of the tube. He found that these rays could pass through a paper of wood or thin foils of metals. Those rays were like the light rays, but of very short wavelengths not visible to the human eye.

On this theory, he thought if an ordinary light could affect the photographic plate, these rays should also affect them. Roentgen placed his wife’s hand on a photographic plate and passed X-rays through it. When the plate was developed on the plate were pictured hand bones with outlines of the surrounding flesh. The ring which was worn by the wife too was visible. It was the first time a photograph of a living being’s skeleton was taken.

Although these rays are very useful in revealing the body’s ailments, they also are very harmful if used in excess. Two co-workers who worked for the development died because of the X-rays effects on them.

X-rays discovered by Roentgen are put to more and more uses in the medical field and also in various areas. It is used to photograph bones, treat cancer, examine the diseases of lunges, and find stones in the kidney and gallbladder. Further, it is used to detect gold and valuable gems hidden in the body for smuggling. It can detect and separate natural and artificial diamonds. X-rays are also used to determine the structure of crystals and detect cracks and bubbles in iron bars used to build bridges etc. Using X-rays, a diagnostic machine called Cat-Scanner has evolved and is very useful for diagnosing various diseases in the human body.

Apart from X-ray, Prof. Roentgen researched other fields such as the elasticity capillary action of fluid, specific heats of gases, conduction of heat in crystals, and absorption of heat by gases. This great man died at 77 on 10th February 1923.

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