Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Radiography: A Very Brief History

A chest x-ray examination. Photograph: 19thcenturychange.wordpress.com

Radiography itself hasn't been around for very long. X-rays, or Röntgen rays, as they are also known, (after Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen who discovered them in 1895) were found to be a type of electromagnetic radiation. One of the first pictures that Röntgen took using these rays was of his wife's right hand, which showed her rings and bones easily. The rays were given the name X-ray because not much was known about them at the time of their discovery.

The first radiograph (or roentgenogram) used to assist in surgery was taken in 1896 after its invention in Birmingham by the British pioneer of medical X-Rays, Major John Hall-Edwards (he eventually had to have his left arm amputated in 1908 due to X-ray dermatitis). Also in June that year, only 6 months after Röntgen announced his discovery, X-rays were being used by battlefield physicians to locate bullets in wounded soldiers. 

Shortly after, French scientist Henri Becquerel discovered natural radioactivity. Becquerel was researching fluorescence, where certain minerals glow when exposed to sunlight. He utilised photographic plates to record this fluorescence. Marie Curie also became interested in his work and tried to find other radioactive elements.

Inevitably, the widespread and unrestrained use of X-rays led to serious injuries. Often injuries were not attributed to X-ray exposure. Some early experimenters did tie X-ray exposure and skin burns together. The first warning of possible adverse effects of X-rays came from Thomas Edison, William J. Morton, and Nikola Tesla who each reported eye irritations from experimentation with X-rays and fluorescent substances.

When new diagnostic tests were developed, it was natural for radiographers to be trained in and to adopt this new technology. 

Another interesting fact: The term "radiographer" has only really been in use since 1918. Before that, the term "skiagrapher" was used, derived from the Ancient Greek words "shadow" and "writer".

Radiographers now often do fluoroscopy, CT, mammography, ultrasound, nuclear medicine and MRI.

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