4 Ways The X-Ray Has Changed The World

If you've ever broken a bone, had your teeth checked for dental health or gone through airport security, you've had an X-ray. This technology has a wide-reaching influence on our daily lives that few people rarely realize. It's not just a medical exam with limited use.

Here, we examine four ways x-ray has changed the world.

X-Ray Imaging: A Brief History

On November 8, 1895, German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered a new form of ray.

The discovery was made purely by chance when Röntgen tested whether cathode rays could pass through glass. An incandescent green light suddenly appeared and projected onto a fluorescent screen nearby. Follow-up experiments found that the mysterious light would pass through almost any substance while leaving shadows where there were solid objects.

Not quite sure what ray he was looking at, he marked it down with an X—for unknown—and the term x-ray was born. Röntgen probably couldn't have predicted how much his invention would change life as we know it.

1. Medical

The introduction of the x-ray completely changed medicine. The descendants of Röntgen's accidental find now help us to detect fractures and breaks in the human body, along with signs of pneumonia, lung cancer, and heart failure. CT scans, fluoroscopy, mammograms, and advanced dentistry wouldn't all be possible without x-rays, while radiation oncology uses them to fight cancer cells.

And the list goes on. This technology has dramatically changed our approach to medicine, with new advancements coming out all the time from manufacturers like Maven Imaging.

2. Finding Items

In 1881, U.S President Andrew Garfield died after being shot because doctors could not locate the bullet in his body fast enough. Quite remarkably, almost exactly one hundred years later, another U.S President, Ronald Reagon, was also hit by an assassin's bullet on March 30, 1981.

Medics rushed the President to the hospital, where an x-ray immediately revealed the exact location in his chest where the bullet had come to rest. Dr. Benjamin Aaron decided to operate soon after and saved the President's life.

Today, medics use x-rays to quickly locate objects in humans or animals, saving an unimaginable number of lives.

3. Airport Security

Airport security can be a pain as the officers inspect your person and luggage. The process can be slow and tiresome, but imagine how bad things would be if airports didn't use x-rays?

In 1974, the Air Transportation Security Act mandated that all U.S airports begin using X-rays to scan carry-on baggage. The practice quickly spread around the world, and the effect was seismic.

Between 1961 and 1972, there were 159 aircraft hijackings in the U.S alone, but that figure plummeted after they began using x-rays in airports.

4. Astronomy

The final frontier is also seeing plenty of x-ray use these days. The Earth's atmosphere naturally absorbs x-rays, but by using specialist equipment, we can study objects, such as the sun, which give off vast amounts of x-rays that the naked eye can't see.

This technology has completely transformed our understanding of the sun's corona, and the weird and wonderful energy flows it emits.

X-ray communication might one day be how we talk to each other across vast distances in space. NASA is already in the early stages of testing its XCOM technology demonstrator.


Discovered by a remarkable stroke of luck nearly 130 years ago, x-ray technology has wholly altered many aspects of our lives. While the most dramatic and noticeable changes have been within the medical field, we are still only at the beginning of truly understanding what is possible. Give it another 130 years, and it's difficult even to imagine what other applications x-rays may have.

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