Interestingly enough, a 19th Century German physicist at the University of Wurzburg, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, is usually credited with discovering the method that produces the modern X-ray.
As the story goes, Röntgen first developed the process that came to be known as Röngten rays on November 8th, 1895. However, the name “Röntgen rays” tended to be used only by the scientific community and, in most of Röntgen's surviving notes and speeches, he actually refers to the phenomenon as X-rays (hence our name for the process today). As a result of Röntgen's astonishing work, he became the first recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physics during 1901.
However, at the core of the X-ray process is the following concept: X-rays are able to easily pass through non-metallic materials.
At the onset of process, X-ray equipment creates a concentrated beam of electrons and literally smashes the tiny particles into some sort of metal film. The result of that crash between the metallic film and the highly charged electrons is a concentration of high-energy electromagnetic radiation. This radiation is what is normally termed X-rays.
Along with the sheet of metallic film, a second sheet serves as a filter that prevents the beam from scattering or making the image produced by the action foggy or otherwise difficult to view. As the image appears, the portions of the body that contain certain elements, such as calcium-enriched bones, will appear outlined. Other mineral deposits help to identify the presence of growths such as tumors. Other irregularities can be seen as well, such as breaks in the bones or foreign objects in the body (bullets, knife blades, etc.). In some instances, the patient may also be required to ingest what is known as a contrast agent, such as barium or iodine. This simply helps to make the presence of blood vessels and organs appear more prominently on the X-ray.
Though the process is highly useful in modern medicine and other practices (even in some demolition work), X-ray technology is not without some degree of risk.
In fact, high levels of exposure to radiation in a short period of time can produce a variety of health problems. Still, an occasional exposure to X-rays during an annual medical checkup is not likely to result in any type of permanent damage.
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