We often take the ability to see inside the human body for granted, and why wouldn’t we? X-ray technology is well over a century old. But imagine you live in a time where science isn’t really sure what an atom is and the discovery of electrons is merely a glimmer in some frisky physicists’ eyes, and you begin to appreciate just how insanely intelligent some of these scientists had to be to harness and comprehensively describe the X-ray in its early days. Oh and there was also the fact that they completely revolutionized modern medicine with a discovery matched only by the discovery of antibiotics almost 30 years later.
Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen
Widely considered to be the father of the X-ray, Rontgen wasn’t the first to notice that cathode ray tubes produced strange radiation, but he was the first to do something besides shrug and say “huh that’s funny”. In 1895, Röntgen published the first academic papers comprehensively describing what he called “X-rays”, mostly because he couldn’t think of a better name for the mysterious radiation.
Later, despite Röntgen’s humble non-Hawkingesque protests, it was renamed Röntgen rays, and remains as such in many languages. He also published some of the earliest X-ray photographs using his wife’s hand as the subject. This led to a common convention of early X-ray researchers using their hands as experimental subjects, resulting in the tragic death of several early researchers from virulent hand cancer.
Surprisingly, it took another X-ray (and all-around genius) to describe the harmful health consequences of X-rays.
Meet the other three here The 4 most influential X Ray technicians