15 Interesting Facts About the History of Radiology and Radiography

Use of radiology and radiography in medical technologies is so commonplace nowadays, that we seldom think of how they came about. Tools such as the x-ray and ultrasound are used in everything from fixing broken limbs to looking at babies before they are born. But the technology did not develop over night or even the course of a few years.

To demonstrate, we have gathered 15 interesting facts about the history of radiology and radiography arranged mostly by time. They include both some well-known and rarely heard of tidbits in medical history that were essential to bringing about current advancements. So whether you are attending radiology school or want to know more about your latest test results, there is something for you.

Interesting Facts About the History of X-rays

Learn more about the history of the first medical imaging technology below.

  1. Bring on the Barium
    Number 56 on the Periodic Table of Elements, barium is a key tool for radiology and radiography. It was discovered in 1808 by Sir Humphry Davy, an English chemist. It was later found to be a good absorber of x-rays and is still used to this day to help develop accurate x-rays.
  2. Wilhelm Roentgen Invents X-ray
    As with many scientific breakthroughs, this was done by accident. A German scientist, he was studying the path of electricity when he noticed that the image was sticking to a paper and contained details not contained in an ordinary photograph. After making a few adjustments, he took the very first x-ray of a human hand. He would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics for 1901.
  3. The History That Almost Was
    Upset that radiology and radiography didn’t originate in the United States? It almost did. 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. It wasn’t until after Roentgen gained notoriety that they were able to recall the incident.
  4. The Tesla Unit
    Nikola Tesla was such as brilliant inventor, he was given the title “Badass of the Week” by a blog of the same name. From Croatia, he helped invent things such as electrical generators, radio, remote controls, and more. He was even rumored to have lit 200 light bulbs from over 26 miles away. But in radiology terms it was his invention of Tesla units, or how we measure magnetic images, in the late 1800’s that he makes this list and an important step in medical imaging.
  5. Bring on the Brain Surgery
    There was once a point in human history not too long ago when brain surgery was the stuff of science fiction. After Roentgen discovered x-rays, Dr. Harvey Cushing of Harvard further developed the technology for diagnostic clinical x-rays. It was in 1902 that he began performing pioneering work in surgery, including on the brain. X-ray technology was often used to help him locate and remove tumors.
  6. The Dangers of Radioactivity
    Up until scientists and others who worked with x-rays began mysteriously dying, it was thought of as a safe practice. However, Madam Curie’s discoveries of radium and polonium would prove to be a double edged sword. It would gain her a revered place in science as both a women and pioneer but would also cause her death. Winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935, safety advancements were made in the fields of radiography and radiology due to her work that protect both patients and caregivers.
  7. The X-ray of the Future
    By now, x-ray technology was focused on detecting small items inside people. However in 1979, the technology was turned towards larger targets. This was when NASA launched its Chandra X-ray, which uses the technology to take amazing images of outer space. It continues to operate today, and visitors to the NASA website can see loads of images.
  8. The Future is Now
    Is human tissue the limits of x-ray technology? Absolutely not. Earlier this year, a camera that uses x-ray technology was revealed to have an unprecedented speed of 4.5 million frames per second. To put that into perspective, HD captures 24 frames per second. The invention is intended to shed new light on the structure of matter.

Interesting Facts About the History of Other Radiology and Radiography

Like all good practices, x-ray technology was built on and around with more details below.

  1. Fluoroscopy
    Years after Roentgen’s discoveries, the fluoroscope would be born. Early prototypes were simple cardboard funnels that had been closed with a thin layer of fluorescent metal salt. Although the images produced were not nearly as detailed as they are today, the fluoroscope remains an important part of radiology and radiography.

  2. Nuclear Medicine
    While the use of nuclear science had its downsides during World War II, it was also emerging as a significant tool for the medical profession. It was first used for the diagnosis of thyroid disease and is now used for diagnostics, to measure concentrations of substances in human blood, and to treat disorders of the organs. This history piece from Yale has much more.
  3. Mammography
    This medical imaging is most commonly associated with breast cancer detection. One of the first doctors to utilize the technology was Dr. Jacob Gershon-Cohen in the 1950’s. He used the yet unproved technology to screen even healthy women for breast cancer and coming up with incredible results.
  4. Ultrasound
    How does sound play into medical imaging diagnostics? With the use of ultrasound, which creates sound waves of 20,000 per second and creates a detailed image. The first paper was published in 1942 by Austrian professor Karl Theodore Dussik, who was using ultrasound in brain medicine. It was later that Professor Ian Donald of Scotland developed practical uses for the technology and applications in the 1950’s.
  5. CT Scan
    Also known as computed tomography, the CT scan was first invented in 1972. British engineer Godfrey Hounsfield and South African physicist Allan Cormack are credited with the invention. The first CT scanners took hours to take an image. Now in wide use, there are thousands of CT machines in the U.S. alone and can take images in minutes.
  6. The First MRI
    Thanks to Nikola Tesla’s earlier discoveries, the use of magnetics in medicine was able to achieve new heights. However, it wasn’t until 1977 that the use of MRI technology was used in medicine. Also known as magnetic resonance imaging, it creates an image of the human body using nuclear technology from any angle and direction.
  7. The Combo Deal
    If we can get a burger and fries at the same time, why can’t we get two types of radiologic images at once? If you are a patient at the Methodist Hospital in Illinois you can now get both CT and a nuclear medicine scan in one. Implemented earlier this year for the first time in the United States, there are also other similar machines in use in Europe.

With the above 15 interesting facts about the history of radiology and radiography just the beginning, there are loads more advances and careers in the development.

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