Nearly 120 years ago, physicist Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen (1845-1923) became the first person to observe X-rays. This was a significant scientific advancement that would ultimately benefit a variety of fields, most of all medicine, by making the invisible visible. Rontgen’s discovery occurred accidentally in his lab in Wurzburg, Germany where he was testing whether cathode rays could pass through glass when he noticed a glow coming from a nearby chemically coated screen. He named the rays that caused this glow X-rays because of their unknown nature. Rontgen conducted a series of experiments in his lab to better understand his discovery. His discovery was labeled a medical miracle and X-rays soon became an important diagnostic tool in medicine, allowing doctors to see inside the human body for the first time without surgery. In 1897, X-rays were first used on a military battlefield, during the Balkan War, to find bullets and broken bones inside patients.
Rontgen received numerous accolades for his work, including the first Nobel Prize in physics in 1901, yet he remained modest and never tried to patent his discovery. Today, as we all know, X-ray technology is widely used in medicine, material analysis and devices such as airport security scanners.