X-Rays

About the history and uses of x- rays.

What are X-rays? X-rays are electromagnetic rays with shorter wave lengths than ultra violet rays. These shorter wave lengths allow X-rays to pass through most materials including wood, cloth, and skin. X-rays however can not pass through denser materials such as certain types of metal, bone, and the earth. Although we know what these rays are today, the discoverer, Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, who discovered them on Nov. 8, 1895, called them X-rays because of the mathematic term X meaning unknown (Gherman,5). X-rays have many uses, but also have many dangerous and sometimes fatal side affects if not used right.

There are two main causes of X-rays, heat and electricity. Anything heated over 1 million degrees farenheight produces X-rays. Also inside an X-ray machine used in a doctors or dentists office has a vacuum tube inside. Inside that vacuum tube are two metal coils inside a lead lining. When the machine is turned on electricity is sent through the vacuum tube and between the two coils. The electricity causes heat which causes the atoms to bounce off the lead lining and sends X-rays through an iron window on the vacuum tube.(Gherman,17). In order to see your bones and teeth using an X-ray machine you must have X-ray sensitive film. When the X-rays pass through the iron window they pass through your skin but not your organs and bones. This causes shadows on the X-ray sensitive film( The electromagnetic spectrum).

The book Medical Technology: Inventing the Instruments gives a brief summary of Roentgen’s childhood:

Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen was born in Lennep, a small town in Germany, on March 27, 1845. When he was three years old, he moved with his parents to Apeldoorn, Holland. His parents, Charlotte and Friedrich, owned a small textile mill. Making a good living…Wilhelm was an only child, educated at private schools,….(73-4) This shows that he was both educated enough and wealthy enough to afford and use the equipment needed to study X-rays.

Although X-rays are mostly used for medical reasons such as broken bones, objects lodged in bodies, and treating several types of cancer, there are several other uses. Artists use X-rays to check the authenticity of paintings. Airport security check the luggage for weapons, explosives, and drugs. Engineers can use X-rays to check that equipment is made properly. Dentists use X-rays to find cavities, gum disease, and root canal infections. Scientists can use X-rays to study the appearance and the lives of ancient animals.

When X-rays were first invented people had several strange ideas about the use of X-rays. One belief was that X-rays could turn any metal to gold. Some people thought that X-rays could make blind people see. One inventor even tried to figure out a way to transport information into the brain using X-rays. Although most people tried to find positive uses for X-rays, some people thought X-rays would bring death to human kind.

As helpful as X-rays are, there are several side affects if X-rays are not used properly. When X-rays were first invented they ruined the photo plates used before film. X-rays can also cause cancer due to over radiation. Your hair falls out, your finger nails stop growing, and your skin falls off the bone due to over radiation.

Today doctors have learned to use less radiation and a lower exposure time to lower the chances of side affects. Pads made of lead, a thick metal X-rays cannot pass through, are used to cover body parts that do not need the X-rays. This also reduces the chance of cancer and other side affects.

There have been several inventions that have used X-rays. One is called CAT scan. A CAT scan is a combination of a computer and X-rays. CAT scans show cross sections or slices of the body and organs. Also a knew kind of microscope called the advanced light source is being invented. This microscope will be able to study living skin cells using X-rays. It will show the affects of chemicals such as burning and combustion. Using the advanced light source scientists may be able to stop pollution.

X-rays were discovered by accident by Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen in Germany. X-rays are probably one of the most important medical discoveries in history. There are probably more things we can do with X-rays and it is only a matter of time before we find them.

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