A short history of x-rays
by Arne Hessenbruch
The new radiation: what is it good for? (1896-1920s)
In the period until World War I, the field of diagnostic radiography
matured. The practice of diagnostic radiography worked well with a conception
of x-rays as similar to visible light possessing wavelength and intensity.
Shorter and thus more energetic wavelengths were less well absorbed by
bone than longer, less energetic ones. The contrast desired of an x-ray
photograph could be achieved by manipulating the x-ray tube producing
more of one kind of x-rays and less of another. Physicists worried over
the nature of x-rays in this early period because the phenomena well-known
to light (diffraction, refraction, and interference) were not observed
for x-rays. In fact, a concept of x-rays as bunched up radiation, almost
particle-like, persisted amongst some physicists, and Bruce Wheaton has
argued that the dualistic concept of radiation as both a particle and
a wave - so important for quantum mechanics in the 1920s - has its origin
in the persistence of both theories of x-rays
 . Maybe Wheaton is right, but almost everybody just considered
x-rays another form of electromagnetic waves because of the experience
with routine radiography.
 Fölsing, A. (1995), Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen: Aufbruch ins Innere der Materie, München: C. Hanser
 Kevles, B. (1997), Naked to the Bone: Medical Imaging in the Twentieth Century, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press
 Hessenbruch, A. (2000), "Science as public sphere: X-rays between spiritualism and physics", in Wissenschaft und Öffentlichkeit in Berlin, 1870-1930, Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 89-126.
 Wheaton, B. (1984), The Tiger and the Shark: Empirical Roots of Wave-Particle Dualism, Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press
This page was last updated on 28 October 2002 by Arne Hessenbruch.