|61 Shadows Inside Us 1895
AS WITH so many scientific breakthroughs, the discovery of X rays happened by accident. A German physicist named Wilhelm Rööentgen was investigating the properties of electricity. On November 8, 1895, he learned more than he bargained for. He placed a vacuum tube with a wire attached to either end inside a black box, switched off the lights in his lab and turned on the electrical current. A mysterious fluorescence began emanating--not from the tube in the box but from a cardboard screen nearby that had been treated with barium. Rööentgen could see that the screen was glowing in response to something coming from the tube. It was not cathode rays or any other emissions he knew of. Experimenting further, he discovered that these rays of unknown origin--"X rays"--could penetrate thick books and blocks of wood. Holding up his hand before a screen, he became the first person to see the shadow of bones.
Rööentgen announcement of his discovery two months later caused an immediate sensation. Magazines published poems about X rays. Stores in Victorian London advertised X-ray-proof clothing. Within months physicians were using the new technology to look at broken bones and bullets in wounded soldiers. Eventually, improved technology lessened side effects--burns to the skin and hair loss. By the 1970s xeroradiography reduced exposure time and cancer risk. And related technologies, from CAT scans to MRIs, have opened a window into the structure of matter and the workings of the body.
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