An interest in science is essential. X-rays are one of the most incredible scientific discovery in a history. Knowing some facts about X-rays is not only interesting but it also enhances our knowledge about sciences. Here are some facts about these particular electromagnetic energy waves that you can learn.

What Is X-Rays?

X-rays act similarly to light rays, but these two are of course different. The electromagnetic energy waves are about 1,000 times shorter than those of light rays at wavelengths. Compared to light and radio wave, X-rays have much more energy. They produce fluorescence emission from excited atoms as a result of high-energy impact’s reaction.

When Atoms of all the elements are bombarded with electrons, they generate a characteristic X-ray spectrum. They X-ray photons are produced when the incident electrons enter an inner electron orbit out of an atom. When this occurs, an outer energy electron falls within the shell to substitute it, misplacing potential energy in doing so.

History Of X-Rays

Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen

  • Who discover X-rays?

X-rays were first observed by a Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen on November 8, 1895. Therefore, the German physicist is considered as the person who discovered x-rays. This discovery happened accidently in his laboratory in Wurzburg, Germany, when he was doing an experiment to find out if cathode rays could pass through glass.

  • How were they discovered?

In the middle of the experiment, suddenly a glow came from around chemically coated screen. He had no idea what the rays were so he called them X-rays due to their unknown nature.  To better understand his discovery, Röntgen carried out a series of experiments. He found out that X-rays penetrate human flesh and that they can be photographed.

  • The first use of X-rays

Two years later in 1897, Röntgen’s discovery was considered as a medical miracle and soon X-rays became widely used in medicine field as an essential diagnostic tool. X-rays were first used to identify broken bones and to find bullets inside patients on a military battlefield for the period of the Balkan War. Since then, doctors have been able to see inside the human body without performing surgery.

  • Scientists began to realize the harmful effects

It was easy to realize the benefits X-rays brought to medicine, but scientists didn’t realize at first that X-rays posed some destructive effects of radiation. Initially, they thought that X-rays are as harmless as light. However, in several years, a number cases of burns ad skin damage due to exposure to X-rays were reported. In 1904, Clarence Dally, the assistant of Thomas Edison, died of skin cancer after working extensively with X-rays. His death made some scientists take the risks of radiation more seriously.

In 1930s, many American shoe stores started using X-rays that enabled customers see their feet bones. In this way, they would know if the shoes fit their feet well or not. It happened until the 1950s when the shoe-fitting fluoroscopes were discontinued as the practice was determined to be risky business.

Common Uses Of X-Rays

Nowadays, X-ray technology is mostly used in medicine or clinical purposes just like how it started in the past. In addition, it is also used in a variety of fields such as in airport security, art industry, food packaging, and many more.

  • Check symptoms in the body

X-ray technology has many different purposes in the medical world. Conventional x-ray pictures help doctors check symptoms originating inside their patient’s body. For instance, a chest X-ray is used to capture images inside the chest. From the images, doctors can test the chest wall as well as the heart and lungs. They can diagnose a persistent shortness of breath and cough. An X-ray is also useful to track treatments for pneumonia, emphysema, and other lung conditions.

  • Diagnosing injuries

To diagnose injuries, a bone X-ray is performed. It involves a small amount of ionizing radiation. This produces pictures of a bone within the body. The pictures help doctors diagnose fractured bone or join dislocation so that doctors can assess the injuries further.

  • Dental check

Dentists can get pictures of your teeth with a dental X-ray that allow them to check your overall oral health. The X-rays used in dental check have low levels or radiation. Using this technology, dentists can identify problems exist in your gums and teeth. It also enables them to see any cavities and tooth decay.

  • Mammography

Mammography is often used in breast cancer treatment. This medical imaging is a kind of type that utilizes x-rays to get images of the breasts’ internal structure or tissues. Performing this test can help detect the occurrence of breast cancer in the early stage. In this procedure, a burst of X-rays created using an X-ray machine pass through patients’ breast to a photographic film plate on the other side. The X-ray image captured by the detector is called a mammogram.

  • Joint changes and arthritis

Standard X-ray imaging might not work to diagnose joint problems. That is why identifying joint changes and joints requires a specialized X-ray technology called arthrogram. It reveals hard-to-find problems in the joints whether there is bone fracture, ligament tear, or cartilage wear down.

  • Revealing forged arts

In addition to the use of X-rays in medicine, X-rays are also used in other fields, for example in art industry. They work similarly to mass spectrometry and microscopy that can determine art forgeries. X-rays can be used to detect whether a painting has been painted over an existing piece or not.

  • Airport security

The other common use of X-rays is for airport security. Every airport features x-ray security system. This system is able to detect dangerous items in your baggage. When a baggage is scanned, a detector measures the amount of radiation penetrated the scanned stuff.

The airport X-ray machines produces images in different colors corresponding to a material category. There are three colors; green, blue, and orange. Green corresponds to medium-dense non-organic items such as plastic soda bottles. Orange refers to food, marijuana, paper, and other organic materials. Meanwhile, blue means hard plastic or metals. In other words, X-rays know exactly what do you have in your luggage.

  • Food and other product packaging

Although not as common as other uses, X-ray is used in culinary industry particularly as inspection system for packaged products. It can detect dense contaminants present in packaged products like calcified bone, metal, high density plastic, and metal.

Harmful Effects

Despite its advantages in health and other fields, improper uses of X-rays could lead to dangers. Here are some reported dangerous effects of X-rays.

  • Affect children’s genitals

Compared to adults, children are more sensitive to radiation and parts of their body that can be highly affected is their genital. Therefore, when doing x-ray check-ups, following all of the procedure is a must. Even, parents who accompany their children are required to wear x-ray prevention clothes as a protection.

  • Cancer

High and continuous exposure to X-ray radiation can increase the risk of cancer by 40% (not only skin cancer but cancer in general). It also develops tumors by 50% and leukemia by 70%.

  • Thyroid glands

Thyroid glands are condition that affect energy and metabolism system. The condition is also the negative impact of X-rays. The glands are particularly sensitive to radiation because excessive exposure to radiation can cause various thyroid conditions. Usually doctors will ask the patients to have a thyroid collar as e precaution when their neck, head, or collarbone is x-rayed.

  • Genetic damage

According to a number of reports, it is found out that people who are exposed to X-rays particularly in the lower abdominal area is at a higher risk of developing genetic disease. The worst thing is that it can turn hereditary. They are also associated with chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, strokes, coronary heath diseases, and diabetes.

However, as long as X-ray treatments are performed by professionals such as doctors and radiographers, you should not worry about the negative sides. There are procedures that should be followed to ensure that the treatments are safe and won’t cause negative effects to the patients.

Other Facts About X-Rays

  • Thomas Edison was afraid of X-rays

Thomas Edison had worked for a number of years on creating light bulb with X-rays until some cases about skin cancer caused by X-rays radiation were reported. He began to feel afraid so he cancelled the project. However, some of his team members continued working on it. Then, one of the members suffered from cancer and died as a result of radiation exposure. Edison declared that he was afraid of X-rays and he didn’t even want to talk about X-rays.

  • About X-ray pictures

You might have ever wondered how X-ray images reveal different parts of the inside of the body. These electromagnetic waves build images that reveal the inner parts of the body in shades of black in white. The depth of the color corresponds to the amounts of radiation absorbed by different tissues.

As illustration, bones are rich in calcium that they absorbed radiation the most. That is why they appear white on the image. On the other hand, soft tissues and fat look ray as they absorb less radiation. Meanwhile, lungs appear black because they contain air that absorbs the least amount of radiation.

  • The “X” means “unknown”

Nowadays, due to the advancement of technology, scientists know a lot of X-rays. However, the first time they were discovered, there was little known about these electromagnetic waves. Röntgen detected the rays but at that time he still didn’t have any clues about what they are and where they come from.

Because it’s a new knowledge and not much was known about the rays, they were called X-rays. The “X” stands for the unknown. It’s just like the “x” in mathematics which stands for an unknown quantity. The “X” in X-rays is a reminder that the rays were so mysterious in the earliest use.

  • X-rays cannot detect diamonds

Diamonds don’t show up on X-ray imaging as they are categorized as radiolucent molecular structure. That is the reason why diamonds don’t appear on an X-ray picture. Because of its inability to detect diamonds, X-ray is often used to identify whether a diamond is fake or not.

If it can be clearly seen on X-ray image, it means it is not a real diamond. Instead, it can be quartz, cubic zirconia, or other stones with radiopaque molecular structure. These stones can mimic a brilliance of a diamond but come with lower refractive indexes.

  • Röntgen didn’t finish high school

Some scientists didn’t complete high school for some reasons including Wilhelm Röntgen, the person who discovered X-rays. He went to Utrecht Technical School but he was excelled because he refused revealing who drew one of his teachers in an unflattering caricature.

It made him unqualified to matriculate at German universities. Luckily he heard that the new Federal Polytechnic Institute in Zurich didn’t require diploma from previous school as long as the candidate could pass the entrance exam and Röntgen did. He enrolled there and studied mechanical engineering.

  • X-rays helped NASA explore the space

X-rays were used in numerous telescopes released in space. The rays helped scientist to see what is beyond our solar system clearer and better. They also played a significant role in comprehending black holes and dark matter. However, now X-rays are no longer used in space exploration as scientists have found other practical and risky methods to do so.

  • X-rays occur outside the Earth

X-rays occurs not only on the Earth but in space as well. It’s even believed that X-rays reach the Earth from outer space. The huge amounts of X-ray energy is given out by mysterious objects named quasars.

Knowing all facts about X-rays above is more than just acquiring knowledge. It makes us realize just how small and insignificant we are in this sublime universe. X-rays are probably just one of the incredible things exist in this universe. However, looking back at how scientist could discover, observe, and make use of such amazing discovery, we can be motivated to do the same. Find more facts like facts about water and facts about glass by clicking the link. Hope you like all the facts!