Feb 2017

What is X-Ray and its Applications?

February 2, 2017


One of the most common application learned during physics tuition in the ‘real’ world is the X-Ray. Used for so many modern medical purposes, it’s one of the most ‘familiar’ physical applications of science there is. But do you truly understand all its applications? Join us for JC physics tuition classes to learn more.

What is the X-Ray?

Discovered almost accidentally in 1895, X-Rays were first noted due to a series of effects during a non-related experiment by Wilhelm Roentgen [first, his photographic plates fogged, then a screen coated with barium reacted]. The rays discovered are part of the electromagnetic spectrum of light, just like visible light.

  • This means they travel at the speed of light
  • However, they are not visible
  • They have more energy than the visible spectrum
  • X-rays are not unique to earth as they are found throughout the solar system.
  • X-rays pass through matter, but they do so at different rates. This is why flesh, organs, bone, foreign bodies etc. all appear a different color on x-ray film.
  • X-rays are related to but not the same as Gamma radiation.

What are X-ray’s useful for?

X-rays literally revolutionized the medical sector, and to this day they remain one of the core tools available to the medical profession. Their ability to pass through objects literally allows us to see inside the human body non-intrusively, which assists proper diagnosis and had proven indispensable to the medical field. The CAT scan also makes use of X-ray radiation to build up a highly detailed and accurate cross-sectional image of the body.

It’s a technology that can also be harnessed towards non-destructive internal viewing of a host of different things. Whether they are trying to pick up illegal substances in a suitcase or product defects, X-ray allows that inner glimpse without any damage to the object itself.

This becomes particularly important in a very specialized use of the X-ray, which is the examination of old paintings. We can get information on repaints, changes, and even entirely different paintings present underneath the one visible to the eye. This has helped art historians understand more about masterpieces, uncover frauds and even find hidden paintings thought to be lost during wartime.

Does X-ray have safety concerns?

Under certain circumstances, X-rays can be destructive. Prolonged exposure to an X-ray beam will cause tissue damage, but not its surrounding tissue. As long-term exposure to repetitive X-ray radiations can trigger cancerous cell growth in high quantities, X-ray technicians will wear protective gear as a protection. The capability to use X-ray as a diagnostic tool revolutionized medicine and opened the door to a host of other options for this most versatile form of radiation.

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