Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Life of Wilhelm Roentgen

Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen


Born on March 27, 1845 in Lennep, Prussia, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen was the only child of a cloth merchant. By age three, his family had already moved to the Netherlands, where he went to a boarding school. After entering a technical school at 17, he became very fond of nature and physics. He was expelled later for insulting a teacher by drawing a displeasing caricature. By age 20, he was accepted into the University of Utrecht to study physics. Within four years he graduated with a Ph.D. He published his first work in 1870 about the specific heat of gases, and was incredibly busy with a variety of experiments dealing with the behaviors of electrons in various gases. Two years later, he married in the Netherlands. In 1895, Roentgen began to study the effects of electrons passing through extremely low pressure gases. He noticed while working with this type of equipment that if he allowed very little to no light to enter the gas tube, a fluorescent ray would be visible in the center of the tube. He then put various thicknesses of barium platinocynide on the opening of the tube and saw that the thicknesses had an effect on the brightness of the rays. He temporarily termed these mysterious rays as “X-rays” and decided to investigate further. He noticed that placing lead over the rays would stop them altogether. He concluded that the densities of the materials placed in front would determine the fluorescent aftereffects. As a result, it is believed that he wore a lead vest during the subsequent tests to protect himself from the rays. At one point, he asked his wife to place her hand between the opening and some dark paper. The resulting image showed his wife’s finger bones, which were denser than her flesh and therefore reflected the rays. This was the very first X-ray image ever created. Having worked alone, Roentgen received an enormous amount of awards, medals, and recognition. He travelled around the world to display these effects he later dubbed “Roentgen rays”. In Europe, the name “Roentgen rays” stuck, however, in the rest of the world, people called the rays “X rays” as originally established. Only several years later would the first x rays be used for medicinal purposes, leading to the birth of “Diagnostic Radiology”. He died less than 30 years after his discovery, in 1923 of carcinoma(cancer) of the intestine.