The History of X-Rays and the Use of X-Rays

Running Head: X-RAYS 1



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I have a great enthusiasm in studying X-rays as one of the electromagnetic radiations, commonly used in electronic imaging. In the electromagnetic spectrum, X-rays lie in-between the ultraviolet rays and gamma rays. Due to the decrease in wavelengths, X-rays have higher energy than the ultraviolet rays and a lower energy than gamma rays. According to Robinson and Tweet (1992), X-rays exhibit particle-like properties. In this case, I can easily describe X-rays as the flow of photons that carry with them a discrete amount of energy as well as momentum. Just like the other forms of electromagnetic radiation, they are coupled waves of both electric and magnetic fields travelling at a speed of light.
At this juncture, I would like to have a brief background of the X-rays. The history of X-rays dates back to 1895 when a wise German scientist, Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen observed documented and did interesting experiments on the rays. According to Assmus (1995), despite shielding the rays with a dark paper, Roentgen was able to notice some crystals near a very high voltage cathode ray-Oscilloscope indicating a fluorescent glow. Roentgen was very observant hence he was able to notice that some energy was being produced by the tube. Furthermore, he noted that this energy was able to penetrate through the paper hence causing crystals to glow. With great joy and vehemence, he decided to name the unknown form of energy, X-radiation. This was just the beginning, Roentgen did a of couple experiments to nurture his discovery. The Subsequent experiments included a case where Roentgen took an X-ray photograph of his wife’s hand. In the photo, the scientist was able to observe his wife’s wedding ring as well as her bones. He also realized that the waves were able to penetrate through soft tissues in exception of bones.
Production of X-rays
X-rays are commonly produced when an electronics strike or hit a metal target. Quoting my mentors in physics, the electronics or charged particles are generated by heating a filament and accelerated by a high voltage towards the metal plate (Attwood, 2007).When the charged particles or electrons hit the metal plate, they are converted to X-rays. Also, X-rays can be produced by a synchrotron, which is particle accelerator that makes charged particles move in a closed and circular manner. Electronically, when high-speed electron are forced to move in a circular manner by a magnetic field, then the angular increment in speed causes particles to emit photons. In cases where the energy is sufficient, then the electrons will consequently emit the X-rays. In most cases, X-rays have a wavelength ranging from 0.01 to 10 nanometers. Their energy ranges between 100ev and 100keV. Compared to other types of radiations, their wavelengths are shorter than UV and longer than those of the gamma rays. Depending on their photon energies, those X-rays with quite high photon energy are commonly referred as the hard X-rays while those with lower photon energy are referred as the soft X-rays.
It is important to note that X-rays are used in different fields due to their ability to penetrate through certain materials. In this case, they are used in various nondestructive as well as testing applications. They are particularly used in identifying any flaws or cracks in any structural component. This is done by directing a radiation through the part and another detector (de Gonzalez & Darby, 2004). In so doing, one is able to use the resulting shadowgraph that shows the internal features.
X-rays are also used in diagnosis through the computed tomography. In addition, X-rays have also proved to be a noninvasive and painless method that can be used to diagnose a disease, monitoring therapy, and ultimate support of the medical and surgical planning in hospitals. Indeed, X-rays acts as a critical tool of guiding medical practitioners as they insert catheters, stents and any other device into the body. More importantly, they have played a critical role in the treatment of tumors or the removal of blood clots.
To enhance transportation security, X-rays are used for inspection of luggage, cargo as well as passengers. The technology used here is known as electronic imaging detectors and it allows for a real time visualization of contents of packages as well as the items carried by the passengers in pockets.
Quite interestingly, X-rays are increasingly used in the field of astronomy where they are incorporated in satellites as detectors to do the X-ray astronomy. According to Tanaka, Inoue and Holt(1994), the X-ray astronomy is used to study the highest energies of X-rays and gamma rays. According to a recent research, earth’s atmosphere absorbs most of the X-rays hence X-ray telescope as well as detectors are usually taken to high altitudes by balloons or spacecraft. This observation was made by a group of American astronomers known as the American Science and Engineering (AS&E) who used a rocket flight to detect the first cosmic source of X-ray emission in 1962 (Tanaka, Inoue and Holt, 1994).According to Astronomers our galaxy has Steller sources of X-rays that are primarily referred X-ray binaries. In this case, the binary X-ray is made up of a neutron star from a binary system. Scientists argue that the X-rays in this system originate from a material that travels from a normal star to the neutron star through a process known as accretion. In addition, the binary nature of the system allows astronomer to measure the weight of a neutron star. Quite interestingly, I realized that the inferred mass of X-ray emitting object has ultimately supported the idea of the existence of the black holes. A good example is the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and XMM-Newton X-ray satellite in 1999 that enhanced the discovery of the nature as well as the quantity of the black holes, the evolution of the stars and the composition/activity of the supernova remnants.
However, X-rays have potential ricks when used in various fields. In the field of medicine, they are quite risky to the pregnant patients. For instance, an X-ray for abdomen usually avoided during pregnancy because they expose the womb to the radiation. Secondly, the Ionizing radiation can cause a cell damage. When a person is exposed to higher amount of radiation, such as X-rays and CT scans, he or she increases the ricks of developing a cancer. It is important to note that X-rays makes our blood cells have a high level of hydrogen peroxide which can possibly contribute to cell damage. In addition, X-rays can change the base of a DNA and this case lead to mutation.
It should be noted that the use of the computed tomography or simply the CT scan can be quite disadvantageous to the human body. For instance, the injection of the contrast medium can possibly lead to kidney problems and can result in allergic reaction to some peoples.
Also, the radiation from the x-ray machines can be very dangerous if not handled with care and the necessary precaution put in place. For instance, the operator of an analytical X-ray machine can be greatly affected by the X-ray beam if the necessary safety devices are not used. Thin shielding is commonly used to protect the machine operators from the soft X-rays. However, it is the same property which makes the X-rays very dangerous. The danger of thin shielding is that X-rays can be absorbed into the soft tissues and this can result in severe burns of hands, skins and arms. Some of the sources of the exposure to X-rays includes; primary beam, leakage of primary beam through cracks, penetration of the X-ray beam through cameras, shutters etc.; Diffracted rays from beam; Radiation caused by rectifiers in areas where we have a high voltage power supply.

Assmus, A. (1995). Early history of X rays. Beam Line, 25(2), 10-24.

Attwood, D. T. (2007). Soft x-rays and extreme ultraviolet radiation: Principles and applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

de Gonzalez, A. B., & Darby, S. (2004). Risk of cancer from diagnostic X-rays: estimates for the UK and 14 other countries. The lancet, 363(9406), 345-351.

Tanaka, Y., Inoue, H., & Holt, S. S. (1994). The X-ray astronomy satellite ASCA. Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan, 46, L37-L41.
Robinson, I. K., & Tweet, D. J. (1992). Surface x-ray diffraction. Reports on Progress in Physics, 55(5), 599.

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