We reach the final week of the A to Z Challenge, and today I’m delighted to welcome Vidya Sury, one of my co-minions on #TeamDamyanti.  As well as her minioning, Vidya has been running the challenge on two blogs – an amazing achievement!  Spotting that one of those was medical in nature, I thought she would be the ideal person to cover the NATO Alphabet word for X – X-ray!


Perhaps one of the greatest inventions in medical history, from renowned German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen.

X-rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation similar to radio waves, microwaves, visible light and ultraviolet, all of which travel as waves at different wavelengths.


Let’s first talk about the inventor of X-rays. Roentgen wasn’t just a brilliant scientist, but a large-hearted one. Here are some interesting facts about him that you may or may not have heard of.

  • He did not complete high school and was expelled from the Utrecht Technical School – wrongly accused for playing a prank he didn’t.
  • He refused to accept any profits or royal titles for his work. He donated the money he earned from his Nobel Prize to a university.
  • He did not apply for a patent for his invention and preferred to live a quiet life with his invalid wife.
  • He was a little eccentric – he preferred to work alone and built most of the apparatus he used for his experiments. Apparently he wished all his scientific discoveries to be destroyed after his death.

Roentgen invented the X-ray accidentally. While working in his lab in 1895, experimenting with cathode rays, he covered one of the tubes with black cardboard in a dark room and fed the cathode ray an electric current. But he forgot to place a screen in front of the tube. As a result, the glowing tube left an impression on a piece of cardboard – and thus was the X-ray born.He called them X-rays because X = unknown. The first “röntgenogram” was of his wife’s hand.

World's first X ray

Interestingly, in 1890, five years before Roentgen made his discovery, two professors at the University of Pennsylvania accidentally produced an x-ray with two coins and a photographic plate. But they didn’t remember this until Roentgen became famous! So the USA missed out on this first!

X-rays are not just used to see inside people. In 1979, NASA launched its Chandra X-ray to take images of outer space. The Chandra X-ray Observatory was named after the late Indian-American Nobel laureate astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. (Yep, our family is related to him!). This observatory is still in operation and if you visit the NASA, you can see plenty of images.

Some fun facts about X-rays

X-rays are invisible to our eyes, but register on photographic film.

X-rays, besides being used in hospitals by doctors, are also used in airports to check luggage without opening them. In large factories, X-rays are used to check machines and parts for fractures and cracks that may not be visible to the naked eye.

X-rays pass through our body tissues just like light passes through a net curtain. Each type of body tissue allows X-rays through in a different way. While bones are dense and block them, making the film appear white, skin, fat, muscle and blood allow X-rays through and appear black on film.

Besides bone defects, X-rays can also show chest and heart problems.

Stars and galaxies give out X-rays. The first and brightest X-ray source was the star Scorpius X-1 in 1962. Thousands have been found since, but these are weaker. X-ray galaxies are powerful X-ray sources with big black holes and are found outside our galaxy.


Fascinating, yes? So we know Superman has X-ray vision. Cars already have X-ray vision headlights. And now, I hear that X-ray vision is coming to your cellphone!

Thank you, Jemima!

Thank you, Vidya!


Vidya Sury portrait Vidya Sury. Happy Mom. Writer. Editor. Blogger. Social media explorer. Collects Smiles. Often accused of being too cheerful for her own good, she hums all the time. Loves music, books, writing, cooking, photography, coffee, DIY, people. Enjoys learning and sharing what she knows. Believes that happiness is a DIY project and that everything is possible. She’s participating in the AtoZ Challenge this year with two blogs – personal blog http://vidyasury.com and her health blog at http://yourmedguide.com

Tweets as @vidyasury


X for X-ray

30 thoughts on “X for X-ray

  • 28 April, 2014 at 7:27 am

    Thank you for hosting me, Jemima! 😀 It is a pleasure to be here!

    • 28 April, 2014 at 11:37 am

      The honour is all mine, Vidya! Thank you so much for posting today 🙂

    • 29 April, 2014 at 6:47 am

      🙂 Thanks Shailaja! Imagine talking about my ankle X-rays! Not much fun eh?

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  • 28 April, 2014 at 7:46 am

    What a fascinating background into the origin of X-rays! I love the personal touch you give to your posts, Vidya. History lessons become far more interesting 🙂 ❤

    • 28 April, 2014 at 11:38 am

      Don’t they just, Shailaja. I’m so pleased Vidya was able to take this guest spot!

    • 29 April, 2014 at 6:48 am

      Ok..Looks like I hit the wrong reply. See above Shailaja! Thanks for coming by!

  • 28 April, 2014 at 8:01 am

    Yeah imagine technology growth without this invention,as this invention had led to much more thought and that is when the scan and all kind of grams came into being

    • 28 April, 2014 at 11:40 am

      You are so right, Uniqusatya! People sometimes ask what time period you would like to live in most – but imagine not having all the information provided by x-rays and the like in days gone past!

    • 29 April, 2014 at 6:49 am

      Technology is racing ahead! 🙂 And a good thing too! Except when we have to go through something – then it is scary! Thank you Uniqusatya!

  • 28 April, 2014 at 9:01 am

    Delightful read bout the history of XRay, Vidya and bout Roentgen. Meaning X Ray been an accidental discovery, that’s how great discovery are made, I suppose:)

    • 28 April, 2014 at 11:42 am

      … and having the intelligence to realise what that accident implies for science, too. Good points, Vishalbheero.

    • 29 April, 2014 at 6:50 am

      True, Vishal. 🙂 A good thing too, right? Never underestimate the importance of chance!

  • 28 April, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    I loved this post because part of teaching human anatomy was instructing students in how to read an X ray or radiograph. We had a Professor of Radiology in the course who used to put on a puppet show to introduce Roentgen to the students – hilarious. See the blob on the fourth finger? He always asked the students to guess what it was. It’s Mrs. Roentgen’s wedding ring!

    • 28 April, 2014 at 5:35 pm

      It’s always great to hear other people’s experiences. I didn’t know you used to teach human anatomy!

    • 29 April, 2014 at 6:52 am

      What fun that must have been! There are some pictures of the first X-ray where the ring is quite conspicuous – but not in the original one! Thank you Noelle – teaching human anatomy……I bow to thee!

  • 28 April, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    Wonderful post on the many aspects of X-rays. I have also used them in collage. It is fascinating to see and explore yourself in that light. They also spot things like tendinitis, which you wouldn’t really think they could do. Very useful invention!

    • 28 April, 2014 at 5:36 pm

      Amazing idea – to use them in collage 🙂 Fantastic!

      • 29 April, 2014 at 7:05 am

        Apparently X-rays show a lot more than bone-related problems, Stephanie! Thanks to Jemima, I learned a little more about them!

  • 28 April, 2014 at 6:11 pm

    Wonderful and informative post Jemima and Vidya 🙂

  • 29 April, 2014 at 4:55 am

    I did not know about the X-ray and the man behind it (Ok that is sort of a pun). Very interesting read and love the kangaroo:)

    • 29 April, 2014 at 11:01 am

      The kangaroo is great, isn’t it. Vidya also replied to you on the blog.

  • 29 April, 2014 at 6:57 am

    Birgit, it was fascinating for me to see how the X-ray technology is being applied to so many other uses. 🙂 Thank you!

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