A German physics professor named Wilhem Rötgen accidentally discovered and named what we informally call “X-rays” nearly 120 years ago, the very first X-Ray picture was submitted to the University of Freiburg in January 1896 in a report he entitled “On a new kind of ray: A preliminary communication” which had also been submitted to medical journals.
Colleagues responded to this first paper on X-rays with wild intrigue, and attempted to rename them “Röntgen rays”, which did not stick.
The “X” in X-rays signifies the unknown type of radiation that Wilhem Röntgen accidentally discovered.
To this day the story of Wilhelm Rontgen’s discovery is similar to Darwin’s’ theory of evolution, whom some debate was his own theory or the work of colleagues (i.e. Wallace), the debate is ongoing after all of the lab notes by Röntgen burnt to ashes after his demise.
A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words
Despite arguments, pictures are evidence and his very own wife’s hand is the first X-ray picture ever taken, a photo that cannot be disputed.
According to historical accounts of this X-ray photography session back on December 22, 1895, his brave wife responded to the picture of her hand and bones by saying, “I have seen my death.”
Like all wonderful clichés, great discoveries are usually made by accident, behind every great man is a great(er) and brave woman, and imitation (or trying to take credit) is the best form of flattery.
Unlike many great people in history he was recognized for his accolades while alive and received his first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1905. One decade ago, in 2004, a radioactive element (number 111) was named ‘roentgenium‘ in his honor.
This is the Very First X-Ray Picture Ever!
Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen passed away from “carcinoma of the intestine” at the age of 77 on February 23, 1923. His cancer is not believed to be a direct result of his life’s work with radiation. Wilhem and his wife Anna had one daughter, Josephine, who was by birth the child of Anna’s brother-they adopted her at the age of 6.
Did You Know?
There is no agreed upon distinction in definition between X-rays and gamma rays, yet they are two different forms of radiation.
Feature image courtesy of dreamstime, named Blue Cristal. Not an image of an x-ray but actually, a macro shoot of a light cristal.