125 years of X-rays

2 November 2020

Today it's commonplace, but at the time it was a medical-technical revolution - the discovery of X-rays by Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen 125 years ago in Würzburg.  His discovery on November 8, 1895 heralded a new era in medicine that provided previously unknown insights into the human body. 

This changed medicine forever and today, X-ray technology is the basis for imaging in many medical devices and is therefore an integral part of everyday life.

Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen - a superstar against his will

Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen 27/3/1845 - 10/2/1923 

Wilhelm’s story sounds unbelievable, and it starts with a school prank in Utrecht at the Technical High School. Someone had painted a caricature of their teacher on the blackboard. Young Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen was asked to identify which classmate did the drawing, but Röntgen remained silent and was discharged from school without a high school diploma. At that moment, it would have seemed unthinkable that in 1901 he would become the recipient of the world's first Nobel Prize in Physics.

This anecdote, despite being told thousands of times, might not be true. According to Uwe Busch, X-ray biographer, and director of the Röntgen Museum in Remscheid, Röntgen did leave school without a high school diploma. However, it’s more likely that this prank was an embellishment added over decades of retelling.

Regardless of Röntgen’s start in life, he went on to be an exceptional researcher who changed medicine and engineering forever with the discovery of “X”-rays, as he called them – X for unknown. Because of his discovery, it is now possible to look inside the human body without having to cut it open, allowing doctors to examine millions of people; alleviating pain and suffering.

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