Who discovered x-rays?

History of radiology

"Oh, if only there was a means to make people transparent like a jellyfish!" As early as three years before the discovery of X-rays, the poet Ludwig Hopf, alias Philander, put these words into the mouth of a young country doctor in a medical fairy tale was looking for a way to look inside the human body without having to cut it open. The fairy Elektra, after whom the fairy tale was named, appeared to the young doctor and presented him with a can "for the sake of mankind" whose magical ray of light was supposed to make bodies transparent. Fascinated by the new possibility, the country doctor researched and analyzed the agent, produced it artificially and presented it as a gift to all of humanity.

"A new glorious time for us medical professionals has now dawned"

In fact, this time began on November 8th, 1895, when the physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered a type of very penetrating, invisible radiation that was hitherto unknown to physicists during his research into electrical discharges in dilute gases. When the radiology is the picture of his wife Bertha's left hand, which the physicist took on December 22nd of the same year. In a special meeting of the physico-medical society on January 23, 1896, he presented his discovery, which from now on would bear his name - the "X-rays“.

Röntgen himself spoke of X-radiation, which means something like "unknown rays", a term that was to become established as X-rays in the Anglo-American language area. Medicine was revolutionized by the new diagnostic tool. For the first time it was possible to examine the human body and to research the anatomy and function of living organs. A storm of enthusiasm broke out and the new age of medicine was celebrated with euphoria.

Only a few years after the discovery of X-rays, the procedure found its way into clinical practice in Heidelberg. "Nobody who cares about the clarification of diagnostic problems in the field of internal medicine will want or be able to do without the X-ray examination", said the internist Ludolf Krehl in 1909, who was director of the medical clinic from 1907 to 1931 is named after him.

Initially, the doctors succeeded in diagnosing broken bones, foreign bodies and changes in the skeleton in fluoroscopic examinations. The explanation of numerous other diseases, however, remained hidden to them. Today modern radiology makes use of highly specialized procedures. Imaging procedures such as Computed Tomography, Magnetic resonance imaging, Positron emission tomography and Sonography enable in addition to the Projection radiography (the "conventional X-ray") new dimensions of diagnostics up to molecular imaging.

It is noteworthy that Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen did not apply for a patent for his groundbreaking discovery. It was more important to him that the new rays could be used quickly everywhere for the benefit of people, instead of marketing them to his advantage.