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Röntgen's X-Ray Show: The First Public Demonstration of "X-Radiation"

#25 Science in History

23 January 1896

On this day in January 1896, Röntgen made the first public presentation, and demonstration, of x-rays in front of the Würzburg Physico-Medical Society.

One of the first medical images of X-ray use. Published in 1896 in "Nouvelle iconographie de la Salpétrière" (Tome 9; plaque XXI). Left shows a deformity in the hand. Right shows same hand seen with X-Ray.

The audience was amazed when he made a plate of the hand of an attending anatomist, who proposed that the new discovery be named "Roentgen's Rays"… the name didn’t stick!

Röntgen had discovered this new form of radiation in November of the previous year. While conducting experiments on cathode rays, a type of radiation emitted by cathode ray tubes, he noticed that a fluorescent screen in his lab was emitting a bright light, even though it was not directly exposed to the cathode rays. He realized that this light was coming from a new type of radiation that was able to pass through solid objects, including his own hand.

The discovery of X-rays (Röntgen called it “X-radiation”, for “unknown” since he didn’t know what it was) allowed doctors to see inside the body non-invasively, making diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions much more accurate. In 1901, Röntgen was awarded the first Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery.



1896 X-Ray Machine Shows Radiation Risks of Yore: 1,500 Times More Radiation Than Today: Dutch researchers experiment using a 1896 first generation X-ray machine.


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