Imagine a world before 1895, a world with very few technologies that we consider necessary today: computers, airplanes, televisions.
Before x ray machines were invented, the location of broken bones, tumors, and pills all had physical tests and a doctor’s best guess. Patients paid the price for these methods.
Then on 8 November of 1895, a German physics professor Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen made a remarkable discovery. He took a tube similar to a fluorescent light bulb, removed all the air and filled it with a special gas.
When they passed a high electrical voltage through it, the tube switched off a fluorescent glow. Roentgen then covered the tube with heavy black paper and once again passed electricity through it and saw a barium coated screen in the lab and it began to glow.
He quickly realized that his tube was emitting an “invisible light” or beam, and that the ray could pass through the heavy paper covering the tube. He quickly conducted more experiments and discovered these new rays that pass through most materials and cast shadows of solid objects on film pieces.
He named the new ray an X-ray, because “X” is used in mathematics to indicate an unknown quantity. And within a month Roentgen submitted its report to the Wurzburg Physical-Medical Society and physical friends around Europe.
By January 1896, the world was in the grip of “X-ray mania”, and Roentgen was announced to have discovered a medical miracle. Within a year, X-rays were being used in diagnosis and therapy and was an established part of therapy.
Roentgen did not seek a patent on his discovery of X rays, but was the first to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901.