December 7, 2023
Wilhelm Röntgen

Wilhelm Röntgen: Father of X-Ray

Wilhelm Röntgen first discovered X-rays in 1895.

In the year 1895, a twenty-seven-year-old physicist named Wilhelm Röntgen first discovered X-rays. It was on a sunny day that he noticed that whenever he made an electrical current, his metal hand glossed as if it were wet or shiny. Curious about why this happened, he passed an electrical spark through his hand and found himself staring at some strange effects in the darkroom he was working in. These included hints of pinkish air around the sparks and lines on the walls that appeared to be glowing.

About Wilhelm Röntgen

Wilhelm was born in Röhrsdorf in the Principality of Reuss-Ebersdorf, in a small Pfalz (Palatinate) village. When he was sixteen he studied natural sciences at the University of Heidelberg, and when he finished there, applied to the Technische Hochschule (Technical College) in Karlsruhe. He was accepted but instead went to work for a local physician who needed help “expanding his knowledge about medicine.”

He found that he liked medicine and was particularly interested in physics and chemistry.

Personal Life of Röntgen

Wilhelm Röntgen left Reuss-Ebersdorf for an unknown reason in 1867. After much investigation, it has been found that he had abruptly left his parents and the town of Reuss-Ebersdorf because of some unknown incident. Röntgen never revealed why or what had happened to him.

In 1874, Wilhelm Röntgen married Anna Bertha Ludwig, a teacher, and school principal. They had one daughter, Emma Bertha Ludwig Röntgen. Another daughter died shortly after birth. He was a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and was a very religious man.

Education of Wilhelm Röntgen

A special teacher from Württemberg trained Röntgen in mathematics and science. Röntgen was an extraordinary student and always showed an interest in his studies. His family did not have enough money to pay for school fees or books, so Wilhelm Röntgen taught himself by reading math and physics books he found at home.

In 1861, Wilhelm Röntgen took the entrance exam to become a teacher at the Friedrichs-Realgymnasium but was unsuccessful. In 1862, he took the exam again and passed, becoming a teacher at this school in Wiesbaden. This is where he began his interest in physics and X-rays.

Career of Wilhelm Röntgen

Röntgen became a physics professor at the University of Würzburg in 1879. He was there for eleven years, then left to become director of the physics institute at the University of Giessen.

Wilhelm Röntgen’s work on X-rays began in 1895, after he discovered that a partially evacuated glass tube he was using to study cathode rays also caused a fluorescent effect on a piece of paper covered with barium platinocyanide when an electric discharge was passed through the tube.

Wilhelm Röntgen

Röntgen discovered that these X-rays could penetrate matter and expose images on photographic film. He named them X-rays because they were “unknown rays” at the time. Thanks to his discovery, X-rays are used for medical purposes today. X-rays are used to help doctors see inside the human body without surgery, and many other areas such as inspection of welds and cracks in structures.

Röntgen also invented a way of producing extremely short electromagnetic waves called Röntgenstrahlen (Röntgen rays). This was a way of measuring the wavelength of light.

Röntgen Research

His research focused on the study of cathode rays and other types of electromagnetic radiation. His research led to the creation of Röntgenstrahlen (Röntgen rays), electromagnetic radiation that can be produced by a vacuum tube, similar to the one he used for his X-rays.

Discovery Of X-rays

Cathode Ray Tube

Röntgen was working with a cathode ray tube, like the one shown here. A cathode is an electrode at which electrons leave a metal when it is heated (or otherwise electrically energized). Röntgen had used this type of tube in his work on cathode rays. Cathode rays are beams or streamers of electrons that flow from the negative to the positive electrode (cathode) in a vacuum tube under the influence of an electric field. Röntgen had noticed the dark lines on an object placed between the electrodes of his cathode ray tube, but he did not initially recognize what it was.

Röntgen was sitting in his office one day with several other people, showing them some of his discoveries when he noticed something very curious about one of the tubes used for X-rays. It glowed by itself when a current was turned on in the tube, and then revealed that there were lines on a screen behind it if you put something between the eyepieces.

Death of Röntgen

Wilhelm Röntgen died on February 10, 1923, at the age of seventy. He died from an illness he had contracted several years before. He suffered a stroke and was paralyzed on one side. But still continued to do his work until he died because he loved his job so much.

Röntgen was a very religious man and was buried in his hometown. A statue of him is placed in front of the University Hospital in Würzburg, Germany. The unit of X-ray exposure, roentgen, is named after him.

His wife passed away before him and their daughter died one year after her parents.

Honors are given to Röntgen

Wilhelm Röntgen was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 1901. He received another award, the Rumford Medal, in 1874 from the Royal Society of London for his work in physics. In 1905, he became a member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina.

Other honors he received include:

Honorary degrees from nine universities, including three doctorates (in Heidelberg, Giessen and Strasbourg), five medals, ten gold medals, and two orders (the Royal Order of the Iron Cross and the Grand Cross). He was also a member of various scientific societies including The Physical Society in Würzburg and The British Association for the Advancement of Science.

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