Like with every other invention created, there was first the discovery of a natural phenomenon. In 1895, X-rays were discovered accidentally by German professor Wilhelm Röntgen during one of his experiments with cathode rays, now known as electron beams. He realized this ray in particular could pass through solid objects, save for bones and metal. Barely six months later, X-rays were being used by battlefield physicians to locate bullets in wounded soldiers. X-rays had immediately taken the scientific world by storm.
Before 1912, X-rays were used heavily in the medical and dentistry fields. There were those who wanted to use x-rays industrially, so as to examine the inside of products without taking them apart as well as to produce products more efficiently, except they could not acquire enough voltage to do so. Then in 1913, William Coolidge’s high vacuum X-ray tubes became available. With all the benefits radiology seemed to provide, more research was done to find more sources of radioactivity. French scientist Henri Becquerel discovered uranium, and Polish scientist Marie Curie uncovered polonium and radium. Since then, interest in radioactive elements have become widespread.
X-rays and other radioactive elements were initially seen as nothing but useful. You can’t see, hear, or feel X-rays, and it was an asset for hospitals, dentists, and security. Toward the end of the 19th century, however, side effects such as skin burns, eye irritations, and even disease were eventually identified to be due to X-ray exposure. It took a while to determine this because the symptoms were slow to emerge. In recent years, precautions have been taken to prevent any risk of being affected by X-rays. In hospitals and dentist offices, lead aprons and dresses along with lead lined door frames respectively reduce the radiation that makes contact with the body and from leaving the room during X-ray procedures, like CAT-Scans.
The use of X-rays has become integral to the medical, dental, and industrial fields. Time, money, and most importantly, lives have been spared because of this monumental discovery. We have learned more about the human body, the physical world, and the universe through the knowledge gained by our introduction to X-rays and radioactivity. We just need to remember to take caution when using them so that we keep ourselves and the world safe.