Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen – The Father of Diagnostic Radiology

English: False color skull X-ray. Image by: Nevit Dilmen

English: False color skull X-ray. Image by: Nevit Dilmen

On March 27, 1845, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen was born. The German physicist is best known for producing and detecting electromagnetic radiation in a wavelength range, better known as X-rays or Röntgen raysRöntgen received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his achievement in 1901.

Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen was born in Germany, but grew up in the Netherlands before enrolling at Utrecht’s technical school. After being unfairly expelled from the University, he entered the University of Utrecht to study physics and later enrolled at the Polytechnic at Zurich to become a mechanical engineer. In the following years, the scientist became the Chair of Physics in Würzburg, later Munich.

Röntgen published during his scientific career around 60 papers, starting at the age of 20. His first work dealt with heats of gases and later on he also published a paper on the thermal conductivity of crystals. The scientist also made several contributions to physics through the study of electrical characteristics of quartz, the modification of the planes of polarised light by electromagnetic influences or through his experiments on the functions of the temperature and compressibility on various fluids.

Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (1845 – 1923)

Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (1845 – 1923)

However, Röntgen is best known for his discovery of the X-rays while occupied at the University of Würzburg in 1895. He investigated external effects from various types of vacuum tube equipment when electrical discharge was passed through. While performing his experiments with Lenard’s tubes added by a thin aluminum window and a cardboard covering, The scientist found out that invisible cathode rays caused a fluorescent effect on a barium platinocyanide painted cardboard when located closely to the aluminum window. Röntgen extended his experiments with the Hittorf-Crookes tube and came to the conclusion to have discovered a new kind of rays for the first time, which he temporally named X-rays. A few days later, Röntgen tried out his new discovery on his wife Anna Bertha. He took the first X-ray image of her hand. Seeing her own skeleton was quite shocking to her wherefore she said “I have seen my death!“.

The scientist published his first of three papers on X-rays in December 1896 titled ‘On a new kind of rays’. Röntgen was awarded an honorary Doctor of medicine for his achievement by the university and earned himself the reputation as the father of diagnostic radiology. In 1901, Röntgen was awarded with the Nobel Prize in Physics and donated the monetary reward from his prize to the university. He also refused to patent his discovery and did not want the X-rays to be named after him.

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