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X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation, as are radio between (UV) light and gamma-rays.

Soft X-rays have

waves, infrared radiation, visible light, ultraviolet radiation comparatively high frequencies — about 3 × 1016 cycles per
and microwaves. One of the most common and beneficial second, or hertz, to about 1018 Hz — and relatively short
uses of X-rays is for medical imaging. X-rays are also used in wavelengths — about 10 nanometers (nm), or 4 ×
treating cancer and in exploring the cosmos. 10−7 inches, to about 100 picometers (pm), or 4 ×
10−8 inches. (A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter; a
Electromagnetic radiation is transmitted in waves or particles picometer is one-trillionth of a meter.) Hard X-rays have
at different wavelengths and frequencies. This broad range of frequencies of about 1018 Hz to higher than 1020 Hz and
wavelengths is known as the electromagnetic spectrum. The wavelengths of about 100 pm (4 × 10−9 inches) to about 1
EM spectrum is generally divided into seven regions in order pm (4 × 10−11 inches). Hard X-rays occupy the same region of
of decreasing wavelength and increasing energy and the EM spectrum as gamma-rays. The only difference
frequency. The common designations are: radio waves, between them is their source: X-rays are produced by
microwaves, infrared (IR), visible light, ultraviolet (UV), X- accelerating electrons, while gamma-rays are produced by
rays and gamma-rays. atomic nuclei.

History of X-rays

X-rays were discovered in 1895 by Wilhelm Conrad Röentgen,

a professor at Würzburg University in Germany. According to
the Nondestructive Resource Center's "History of
Radiography" Web page, Röentgen noticed crystals near a
high-voltage cathode-ray tube exhibiting a fluorescent glow,
even when he shielded them with dark paper. Some form of
energy was being produced by the tube, and it was
penetrating the paper and causing the crystals to glow.
The electromagnetic spectrum is generally divided into seven
Röentgen called the unknown energy "X-radiation."
regions, in order of decreasing wavelength and increasing
energy and frequency: radio waves, microwaves, infrared, Experiments showed that this radiation could penetrate soft
visible light, ultraviolet, X-rays and gamma rays. tissues but not bone, and would produce shadow images on
Credit: Biro Emoke | Shutterstock
photographic plates.
View full size image

X-rays are roughly classified into two types: soft X-rays and
hard X-rays. Soft X-rays fall in the range of the EM spectrum
For this discovery, Röentgen was awarded the very first Nobel Due to their ability to penetrate certain materials, X-rays are
Prize in Physics, in 1901. During World War I, X-rays were used for a number of nondestructive evaluation and testing
already being used for medical purposes. (NDE/NDT) applications, particularly for identifying flaws or
cracks in structural components. According to the NDT
Resource Center, "Radiation is directed through a part and
X-ray sources and effects
onto [a] film or other detector. The resulting shadowgraph
shows the internal features" and whether the part is sound.
According to, "X-rays are produced when
electrons strike a metal target. The electrons are liberated
X-rays are also essential for transportation security
from the heated filament and accelerated by a high voltage
inspections of cargo, luggage and passengers. Electronic
towards the metal target." When the electrons strike the
imaging detectors allow for real-time visualization of the
target, their energy is converted to X-rays.
content of packages and items that passengers might carry
on their persons.
X-rays can also be produced by a synchrotron, a type of
particle accelerator that causes charged particles to move in a
The original use of X-rays was for imaging bones, which were
closed, circular path. When high-speed electrons are forced to
easily distinguishable from soft tissues on the film that was
move in a circular path by a magnetic field, the angular
available at that time. However, more accurate focusing
acceleration causes the particles to emit photons. If the
systems and more sensitive detection methods, such as
energy is great enough, the electrons will emit X-rays.
improved photographic films and electronic imaging sensors,
have made it possible to distinguish increasingly fine detail
Synchrotron radiation was seen for the first time at General
and subtle differences in tissue density, while using much
Electric in the United States in 1947, according to
lower exposure levels. Additionally, computed tomography
the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility. This radiation
(CT) combines multiple X-ray images into a 3D model of a
was considered a nuisance because it caused the particles to
region of interest. The U.S. Food and Drug
lose energy, but it was later recognized in the 1960s as light
Administration states that X-ray imaging exams are
with exceptional properties that overcame the shortcomings
recognized as a valuable medical tool for a wide variety of
of X-ray tubes. One interesting feature of synchrotron
examinations and procedures. They are used as a noninvasive
radiation is that it is polarized; that is, the electric and
and painless method for diagnosing disease and monitoring
magnetic fields of the photons all oscillate in the same
therapy, and supporting medical and surgical treatment
direction, which can be either linear or circular.
planning. They are also used in guiding medical personnel as
they insert catheters, stents or other devices into the body;
X-ray imaging treat tumors; or remove blood clots or other blockages.
disk of extremely hot X-ray-emitting gas as it spirals inward.
X-ray therapy
Additionally, supermassive black holes at the centers of spiral
galaxies can emit X-rays as they absorb stars and gas clouds
Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer
that fall within their gravitational reach.
cells by damaging their DNA. However, the treatment can
damage normal cells as well as cancer cells. Therefore,
X-ray telescopes use low-angle reflections to focus these
the National Cancer Institute recommends that treatment
high-energy photons that would otherwise pass through
must be carefully planned to minimize side effects.
normal telescope mirrors. Because the Earth's atmosphere
blocks most X-rays, observations are typically conducted
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
using high-altitude balloons or orbiting telescopes.
ionizing radiation from X-rays deposits a large amount of
energy into a small area, enough energy to strip electrons Introduction
completely way from atoms, thus altering their chemical
An X-ray is a quick and painless procedure commonly
properties and breaking molecular bonds. In sufficient doses,
used to produce images of the inside of the body.
this can damage or destroy cells. While this cell damage can
It's a very effective way of looking at the bones and can be
cause cancer, it can also be used to fight it. By directing X-
used to help detect a range of conditions.
rays at cancerous tumors, the abnormal cells can be killed.
X-rays are usually carried out in hospital X-ray departments

The problem, though, is that this also kills healthy cells along by trained specialists called radiographers, although they can
the path of the beam. To reduce this problem, the patient lies also be done by other healthcare professionals, such as
on a table and is treated with radiation from multiple dentists.
directions, Texas Oncology states. The exposure to How X-rays work
surrounding tissues is minimized, because healthy tissue
X-rays are a type of radiation that can pass through the body.
receives only a single small dose from the moving beam,
They can't be seen by the naked eye and you can't feel them.
while the tumor receives doses from every angle.
As they pass through the body, the energy from X-rays is
absorbed at different rates by different parts of the body. A
X-ray astronomy detector on the other side of the body picks up the X-rays
after they've passed through and turns them into an image.
According to Robert Patterson, professor of astronomy at
Dense parts of your body that X-rays find it more difficult to
Missouri State University, celestial sources of X-rays include
pass through, such as bone, show up as clear white areas
close binary systems containing black holes or neutron stars.
on the image. Softer parts that X-rays can pass through more
In these systems, the more massive and compact stellar
remnant can strip material from its companion star forming a
easily, such as your heart and lungs, show up as darker For all X-rays, you should let the hospital know if you're
areas. pregnant. X-rays aren't usually recommended for pregnant
women unless it's an emergency (for more
When X-rays are used
information, see Can I have an X-ray if I'm pregnant?).
X-rays can be used to examine most areas of the body. It's a good idea to wear loose comfortable clothes, as you
They're mainly used to look at the bones and joints, although may be able to wear these during the X-ray. Try to avoid
they're sometimes used to detect problems affecting soft wearing jewellery and clothes containing metal (such as zips),
tissue, such as internal organs. as these will need to be removed.
Problems that may be detected during an X-ray include:
Having an X-ray
 bone fractures and breaks

 tooth problems, such as loose teeth and dental During an X-ray, you'll usually be asked to lie on a table or

abscesses stand against a flat surface so that the part of your body

 scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spine) being examined can be positioned in the right place.

 non-cancerous and cancerous bone tumours The X-ray machine, which looks like a tube containing a large

 lung problems, such as pneumonia and lung cancer light bulb, will be carefully aimed at the part of the body

 dysphagia (swallowing problems) being examined by the radiographer. They will operate the

 heart problems, such as heart failure machine from behind a screen or from the next room.

 breast cancer The X-ray will last for a fraction of a second. You won't feel

X-rays can also be used to guide doctors or surgeons during anything while it's carried out.

certain procedures. For example, during a coronary While the X-ray is being taken, you'll need to keep still so the

angioplasty – a procedure to widen narrowed arteries near image produced isn't blurred. More than one X-ray may be

the heart – X-rays can be used to help guide a catheter (a taken from different angles to provide as much information as

long, thin, flexible tube) along one of your arteries. possible

The procedure will usually only take a few minutes.
Preparing for an X-ray Contrast X-rays

You don't usually need to do anything special to prepare for In some cases, a substance called a contrast agent may be
an X-ray. You can eat and drink as normal beforehand and given before an X-ray is carried out. This can help show soft
can continue taking your usual medications. tissues more clearly on the X-ray.
However, you may need to stop taking certain medications Types of X-rays involving a contrast agent include:
and avoid eating and drinking for a few hours if you're having  barium swallow – a substance called barium is
an X-ray that uses a contrast agent (see contrast X- swallowed to help highlight the upper digestive system
rays below).
 barium enema – barium is passed into your bowel examined will only be exposed to a low level of radiation for a
through your bottom fraction of a second.
 angiography – iodine is injected into a blood vessel Generally, the amount of radiation you're exposed to during
to highlight the heart and blood vessels an X-ray is the equivalent to between a few days and a few
 intravenous urogram (IVU) – iodine is injected into years of exposure to natural radiation from the environment.
a blood vessel to highlight the kidneys and bladder Being exposed to X-rays does carry a risk
These types of X-rays may need special preparation of causing cancer many years or decades later, but this risk is
beforehand and will usually take longer to carry out. Your thought to be very small.
appointment letter will mention anything you need to do to For example, an X-ray of your chest, limbs or teeth is
prepare. equivalent to a few days' worth of background radiation, and
has less than a 1 in 1,000,000 chance of causing cancer. For
What happens after an X-ray
more information, see GOV.UK: patient dose information.
You won't experience any after effects from a standard X-ray The benefits and risks of having an X-ray will be weighed up
and will be able to go home shortly afterwards. You before it's recommended. Talk to your doctor or radiographer
can return to your normal activities straight away. about the potential risks beforehand, if you have any
You may have some temporary side effects from the contrast concerns.
agent if one was used during your X-ray.
For example, barium can turn your poo a whitish colour for a
X-radiation (composed of X-rays) is a form
few days and an injection given to relax your stomach
ofelectromagnetic radiation. Most X-rays have
before the X-ray may cause your eyesight to be blurry for a
awavelength ranging from 0.01 to 10 nanometers,
few hours. Some people develop a rash or feel sick after
corresponding to frequencies in the range 30 petahertzto
having an iodine injection.
The X-ray images will often need to be examined by a doctor 30 exahertz (3×1016 Hz to 3×1019 Hz) and energies in the

called a radiologist before you're told the results. They may range 100 eV to 100 keV. X-ray wavelengths are shorter than

discuss their findings with you on the same day, or they may those of UV rays and typically longer than those of gamma
send a report to your GP or the doctor who requested the X- rays. In many languages, X-radiation is referred to with terms
ray, who can discuss the results with you a few days later. meaning Röntgen radiation, after Wilhelm Röntgen,[1] who

Are X-rays safe? is usually credited as its discoverer, and who had named it X-
radiation to signify an unknown type of radiation.[2] Spelling
People are often concerned about being exposed to radiation
of X-ray(s) in the English language includes the variants x-
during an X-ray. However, the part of your body being
ray(s),xray(s) and X ray(s).[3]
X-rays with photon energies above 5–10 keV (below 0.2– emitted byX-ray tubes generally has a longer wavelength and
0.1 nm wavelength) are called hard X-rays, while those with lower photon energy than the radiation emitted
lower energy are called soft X-rays. [4]
Due to their by radioactive nuclei.[6]Occasionally, one term or the other is
penetrating ability, hard X-rays are widely used to image the used in specific contexts due to historical precedent, based on
inside of objects, e.g., in medical radiography and airport measurement (detection) technique, or based on their
security. As a result, the term X-ray is metonymically used to intended use rather than their wavelength or source. Thus,
refer to a radiographicimage produced using this method, in gamma-rays generated for medical and industrial uses, for
addition to the method itself. Since the wavelengths of hard example radiotherapy, in the ranges of 6–20 MeV, can in this
X-rays are similar to the size of atoms they are also useful for context also be referred to as X-rays.[citation needed]
determining crystal structures by X-ray crystallography. By Ionizing radiation hazard symbol
contrast, soft X-rays are easily absorbed in air and
X-ray photons carry enough energy to ionize atoms and
the attenuation length of 600 eV (~2 nm) X-rays in water is disrupt molecular bonds. This makes it a type of ionizing
less than 1 micrometer.[5] radiation, and therefore harmful to living tissue. A very
high radiation dose over a short amount of time
There is no universal consensus for a definition distinguishing causes radiation sickness, while lower doses can give an
between X-rays and gamma rays. One common practice is to increased risk ofradiation-induced cancer. In medical imaging
this increased cancer risk is generally greatly outweighed by
distinguish between the two types of radiation based on their the benefits of the examination. The ionizing capability of X-
source: X-rays are emitted by electrons, while gamma rays rays can be utilized incancer treatment to
kill malignant cells using radiation therapy. It is also used for
are emitted by the atomic nucleus.[6][7][8][9] This definition has material characterization using X-ray spectroscopy.
several problems; other processes also can generate these
high energy photons, or sometimes the method of generation
Attenuation length of X-rays in water showing the
is not known. One common alternative is to distinguish X- and
oxygen absorption edge at 540 eV, the energy−3 dependence
gamma radiation on the basis of wavelength (or equivalently,
ofphotoabsorption, as well as a leveling off at higher photon
frequency or photon energy), with radiation shorter than
energies due toCompton scattering. The attenuation length is
some arbitrary wavelength, such as 10−11 m (0.1 Å), defined
about four orders of magnitude longer for hard X-rays (right
as gamma radiation.[10] This criterion assigns a photon to an
half) compared to soft X-rays (left half).
unambiguous category, but is only possible if wavelength is
Hard X-rays can traverse relatively thick objects without
known. (Some measurement techniques do not distinguish being much absorbed or scattered. For this reason, X-rays are
between detected wavelengths.) However, these two widely used to image the inside of visually opaque objects.
The most often seen applications are in
definitions often coincide since the electromagnetic radiation medical radiography and airport securityscanners, but similar
techniques are also important in industry (e.g. industrial
radiography and industrial CT scanning) and research which the electron was bound and producing a photoelectron
(e.g. small animal CT). Thepenetration depth varies with that is likely to ionize more atoms in its path. An outer
several orders of magnitude over the X-ray spectrum. This electron will fill the vacant electron position and produce
allows the photon energy to be adjusted for the application so either a characteristic photon or an Auger electron. These
as to give sufficient transmission through the object and at effects can be used for elemental detection through X-ray
the same time good contrast in the image. spectroscopy or Auger electron spectroscopy.
X-rays have much shorter wavelength than visible light, which Compton scattering
makes it possible to probe structures much smaller than what
can be seen using a normal microscope. This can be used Compton scattering is the predominant interaction between
in X-ray microscopy to acquire high resolution images, but X-rays and soft tissue in medical imaging.[12] Compton
also inX-ray crystallography to determine the positions scattering is an inelastic scattering of the X-ray photon by an
of atoms in crystals. outer shell electron. Part of the energy of the photon is
transferred to the scattering electron, thereby ionizing the
Interaction with matter atom and increasing the wavelength of the X-ray. The
scattered photon can go in any direction, but a direction
X-rays interact with matter in three main ways, similar to the original direction is a bit more likely, especially
through photoabsorption, Compton scattering, and Rayleigh for high-energy X-rays. The probability for different scattering
scattering. The strength of these interactions depend on the angles are described by the Klein–Nishina formula. The
energy of the X-rays and the elemental composition of the transferred energy can be directly obtained from the
material, but not much on chemical properties since the X-ray scattering angle from the conservation of
photon energy is much higher than chemical binding energies. energy and momentum.
Photoabsorption or photoelectric absorption is the dominant
interaction mechanism in the soft X-ray regime and for the Rayleigh scattering
lower hard X-ray energies. At higher energies, Compton Rayleigh scattering is the dominant elastic
scattering dominates. scattering mechanism in the X-ray regime.[13] The inelastic
Photoelectric absorption forward scattering is what gives rise to the refractive index,
which for X-rays is only slightly below 1.[14]
The probability of a photoelectric absorption per unit mass is
approximately proportional to Z3/E3, where Z is the atomic Production
number and E is the energy of the incident photon.[11] This
rule is not valid close to inner shell electron binding energies Whenever charged particles (electrons or ions) of sufficient
where there are abrupt changes in interaction probability, so energy hit a material, x-rays are produced.
called absorption edges. However, the general trend of
highabsorption coefficients and thus short penetration
depths for low photon energies and high atomic numbers is
very strong. For soft tissue photoabsorption dominates up to
about 26 keV photon energy where Compton scattering takes
over. For higher atomic number substances this limit is
higher. The high amount of calcium (Z=20) in bones together
with their high density is what makes them show up so clearly
on medical radiographs.
A photoabsorbed photon transfers all its energy to the
electron with which it interacts, thus ionizing the atom to
Product from ironcontent in the sample might otherwise present a
ion by Characteristic X-ray emission lines for some problem.
electro common anode materials.[15][16] The maximum energy of the produced X-ray photon is limited
ns by the energy of the incident electron, which is equal to the
Photon voltage on the tube times the electron charge, so an 80 kV
Wavelength tube cannot create X-rays with an energy greater than
Anode Atomic [nm] 80 keV. When the electrons hit the target, X-rays are created
[keV] by two different atomic processes:
material number

Kα1 Kβ1 Kα1 Kβ1 1. Characteristic X-ray emission: If the electron has
enough energy it can knock an orbital electron out of
the inner electron shell of a metal atom, and as a
W 74 59.3 67.2 0.0209 0.0184
result electrons from higher energy levels then fill up
the vacancy and X-ray photons are emitted. This
Mo 42 17.5 19.6 0.0709 0.0632 process produces an emission spectrum of X-rays at a
few discrete frequencies, sometimes referred to as the
Spectru spectral lines. The spectral lines generated depend on
Cu 29 8.05 8.91 0.157 0.139
m of the the target (anode) element used and thus are called
X-rays characteristic lines. Usually these are transitions from
Ag 47 22.2 24.9 0.0559 0.0497 upper shells into K shell (called K lines), into L shell
emitted (called L lines) and so on.
by an X- Ga 31 9.25 10.26 0.134 0.121 2. Bremsstrahlung: This is radiation given off by the
electrons as they are scattered by the strong electric
ray tube
field near the high-Z (proton number) nuclei. These X-
with In 49 24.2 27.3 0.0512 0.455
rays have a continuous spectrum. The intensity of the
a rhodiu X-rays increases linearly with decreasing frequency,
from zero at the energy of the incident electrons, the
m target
voltage on the X-ray tube.
, operated at 60 kV. The smooth, continuous curve is due
So the resulting output of a tube consists of a continuous
tobremsstrahlung, and the spikes arecharacteristic K lines for bremsstrahlung spectrum falling off to zero at the tube
rhodium atoms. voltage, plus several spikes at the characteristic lines. The
voltages used in diagnostic X-ray tubes range from roughly
X-rays can be generated by an X-ray tube, a vacuum tubethat 20 to 150 kV and thus the highest energies of the X-ray
uses a high voltage to accelerate the electronsreleased by photons range from roughly 20 to 150 keV.[18]
a hot cathode to a high velocity. The high velocity electrons
Both of these X-ray production processes are inefficient, with
collide with a metal target, the anode, creating the X-
a production efficiency of only about one percent, and hence,
rays.[17] In medical X-ray tubes the target is
to produce a usable flux of X-rays, most of the electric
usually tungsten or a more crack-resistant alloy
power consumed by the tube is released as waste heat. The
ofrhenium (5%) and tungsten (95%), but
X-ray tube must be designed to dissipate this excess heat.
sometimesmolybdenum for more specialized applications,
such as when softer X-rays are needed as in mammography. Short nanosecond bursts of X-rays peaking at 15-keV in
In crystallography, a copper target is most common, energy may be reliably produced by peeling pressure-
withcobalt often being used when fluorescence sensitive adhesive tape from its backing in a moderate
vacuum. This is likely to be the result of recombination of Since Röntgen's discovery that X-rays can identify bone
electrical charges produced by triboelectric charging. The structures, X-rays have been used for medical imaging. The
intensity of X-ray triboluminescence is sufficient for it to be first medical use was less than a month after his paper on the
used as a source for X-ray imaging.[19] Using sources subject.[23] Up until 2010, 5 billion medical imaging studies
considerably more advanced than sticky tape, at least one have been conducted worldwide.[24] Radiation exposure from
startup firm is exploiting tribocharging in the development of medical imaging in 2006 made up about 50% of total ionizing
highly portable, ultra-miniaturized X-ray devices.[20] radiation exposure in the United States.[25]
A specialized source of X-rays which is becoming widely used Radiographs
in research is synchrotron radiation, which is generated
byparticle accelerators. Its unique features are X-ray outputs
many orders of magnitude greater than those of X-ray tubes, A radiograph is an X-ray image obtained by placing a part of
wide X-ray spectra, excellent collimation, and linear the patient in front of an X-ray detector and then illuminating
polarization.[21] it with a short X-ray pulse. Bones contain muchcalcium, which
Production by fast positive ions due to its relatively high atomic number absorbs x-rays
efficiently. This reduces the amount of X-rays reaching the
X-rays can also be produced by fast protons or other positive detector in the shadow of the bones, making them clearly
ions. The Proton-induced X-ray emission or Particle-induced visible on the radiograph. The lungs and trapped gas also
X-ray emission is widely used as an analytical procedure. For show up clearly because of lower absorption compared to
high energies, the production cross section is proportional tissue, while differences between tissue types are harder to
toZ12Z2−4, where Z1 refers to the atomic number of the see.
ion, Z2 to that of the target atom.[22] An overview of these
Radiographs are useful in the detection of pathology of
cross sections is given in the same reference.
the skeletal system as well as for detecting some disease
processes in soft tissue. Some notable examples are the very
common chest X-ray, which can be used to identify lung
Main article: X-ray detector diseases such aspneumonia, lung cancer or pulmonary
edema, and the abdominal x-ray, which can detect bowel (or
X-ray detectors vary in shape and function depending on their intestinal) obstruction, free air (from visceral perforations)
purpose. Imaging detectors such as those used and free fluid (in ascites). X-rays may also be used to detect
forradiography were originally based on photographic pathology such as gallstones(which are rarely radiopaque)
plates and later photographic film but are now mostly or kidney stones which are often (but not always) visible.
replaced by variousdigital detector types such as image Traditional plain X-rays are less useful in the imaging of soft
plates or flat panel detectors. For radiation protection direct tissues such as the brain or muscle.
exposure hazard is often evaluated using ionization
chambers, while dosimeters are used to measure Dental radiography is commonly used in the diagnoses of
the radiation dose a person has been exposed to. X- common oral problems, such as cavities.
ray spectra can be measured either by energy dispersive or In medical diagnostic applications, the low energy (soft) X-
wavelength dispersive spectrometers. rays are unwanted, since they are totally absorbed by the
body, increasing the radiation dose without contributing to
Medical uses the image. Hence, a thin metal sheet, often of aluminium,
called an X-ray filter, is usually placed over the window of the
X-ray tube, absorbing the low energy part in the spectrum.
This is called hardening the beam since it shifts the center of
A chest radiograph of a female, demonstrating a hiatus hernia
the spectrum towards higher energy (or harder) x-rays.
To generate an image of the cardiovascular system, including cancers within the body such as brain, lung, prostate and
the arteries and veins (angiography) an initial image is taken breast.[27][28]
of the anatomical region of interest. A second image is then
taken of the same region after an iodinated contrast Adverse effects
agent has been injected into the blood vessels within this
area. These two images are then digitally subtracted, leaving
an image of only the iodinated contrast outlining the blood
vessels. The radiologist or surgeon then compares the image Abdominal radiograph of a pregnant woman, a procedure that
obtained to normal anatomical images to determine if there is should be performed only after proper assessment of
any damage or blockage of the vessel.
benefit versus risk
Computed tomography
Diagnostic X-rays (primarily from CT scans due to the large
dose used) increase the risk of developmental problems
Computed tomography (CT scanning) is a medical imaging and cancer in those exposed.[29][30][31] X rays are classified as
modality wheretomographic images or slices of specific areas acarcinogen by both the World Health
of the body are obtained from a large series of two- Organization's International Agency for Research on
dimensional X-ray images taken in different Cancer and the U.S. government.[24][32] It is estimated that
directions.[26] These cross-sectional images can be combined 0.4% of current cancers in the United States are due
into a three-dimensional image of the inside of the body and to computed tomography (CT scans) performed in the past
used for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes in various and that this may increase to as high as 1.5-2% with 2007
medical disciplines. rates of CT usage.[33]

Fluoroscopy Experimental and epidemiological data currently do not

support the proposition that there is a threshold dose of
Fluoroscopy is an imaging technique commonly used radiation below which there is no increased risk of
by physicians or radiation therapists to obtain real-time cancer.[34] However, this is under increasing doubt.[35] It is
moving images of the internal structures of a patient through estimated that the additional radiation will increase a person's
the use of a fluoroscope. In its simplest form, a fluoroscope cumulative risk of getting cancer by age 75 by 0.6–
consists of an X-ray source and fluorescent screen between 1.8%.[36] The amount of absorbed radiation depends upon the
which a patient is placed. However, modern fluoroscopes type of X-ray test and the body part involved.[37] CT and
couple the screen to an X-ray image intensifier and CCD video fluoroscopy entail higher doses of radiation than do plain X-
camera allowing the images to be recorded and played on a rays.
monitor. This method may use a contrast material. Examples
To place the increased risk in perspective, a plain chest X-ray
include cardiac catheterization (to examine forcoronary artery
will expose a person to the same amount from background
blockages) and barium swallow (to examine for esophageal
radiation that we are exposed to (depending upon location)
every day over 10 days, while exposure from a dental X-ray is
Radiotherapy approximately equivalent to 1 day of environmental
background radiation.[38] Each such X-ray would add less than
The use of X-rays as a treatment is known as radiation 1 per 1,000,000 to the lifetime cancer risk. An abdominal or
therapy and is largely used for the management chest CT would be the equivalent to 2–3 years of background
(including palliation) of cancer; it requires higher radiation radiation to the whole body, or 4–5 years to the abdomen or
doses than those received for imaging alone. X-rays beams chest, increasing the lifetime cancer risk between 1 per 1,000
are used for treating skin cancers using lower energy x-ray to 1 per 10,000.[38] This is compared to the roughly 40%
beams while higher energy beams are used for treating chance of a US citizen developing cancer during their
lifetime.[39] For instance, the effective dose to the torso from Other notable uses of X-rays include
a CT scan of the chest is about 5 mSv, and the absorbed dose
is about 14 mGy.[40] A head CT scan (1.5mSv, 64mGy)[41] that
is performed once with and once without contrast agent,
would be equivalent to 40 years of background radiation to Each dot, called a reflection, in this diffraction pattern forms
the head. Accurate estimation of effective doses due to CT is from the constructive interference of scattered X-rays passing
difficult with the estimation uncertainty range of about ±19%
to ±32% for adult head scans depending upon the method through a crystal. The data can be used to determine the
used.[42] crystalline structure.
The risk of radiation is greater to unborn babies, so in
pregnant patients, the benefits of the investigation (X-ray)  X-ray crystallography in which the pattern produced by
should be balanced with the potential hazards to the unborn the diffraction of X-rays through the closely spaced lattice
fetus.[43][44] In the US, there are an estimated 62 million CT of atoms in a crystal is recorded and then analysed to
scans performed annually, including more than 4 million on reveal the nature of that lattice. A related technique, fiber
children.[37] Avoiding unnecessary X-rays (especially CT diffraction, was used by Rosalind Franklin to discover
scans) will reduce radiation dose and any associated cancer the double helical structure of DNA.[54]
risk.[45]  X-ray astronomy, which is an observational branch
of astronomy, which deals with the study of X-ray
Medical X-rays are a significant source of man-made radiation emission from celestial objects.
exposure. In 1987, they accounted for 58% of exposure from  X-ray microscopic analysis, which uses electromagnetic
man-made sources in the United States. Since man-made radiation in the soft X-ray band to produce images of very
sources accounted for only 18% of the total radiation small objects.
exposure, most of which came from natural sources (82%),
 X-ray fluorescence, a technique in which X-rays are
medical X-rays only accounted for 10% of total American
generated within a specimen and detected. The outgoing
radiation exposure; medical procedures as a whole
energy of the X-ray can be used to identify the
(including nuclear medicine) accounted for 14% of total
composition of the sample.
radiation exposure. By 2006, however, medical procedures in
 Industrial radiography uses X-rays for inspection of
the United States were contributing much more ionizing
industrial parts, particularly welds.
radiation than was the case in the early 1980s. In 2006,
medical exposure constituted nearly half of the total radiation  Industrial CT (computed tomography) is a process which
exposure of the U.S. population from all sources. The increase uses X-ray equipment to produce three-dimensional
is traceable to the growth in the use of medical imaging representations of components both externally and
procedures, in particular computed tomography (CT), and to internally. This is accomplished through computer
the growth in the use of nuclear medicine.[25][46] processing of projection images of the scanned object in
many directions.
Dosage due to dental X-rays varies significantly depending on  Paintings are often X-rayed to reveal
the procedure and the technology (film or digital). Depending the underdrawing and pentimenti or alterations in the
on the procedure and the technology, a single dental X-ray of course of painting, or by later restorers.
a human results in an exposure of 0.5 to 4 mrem. A full Many pigments such as lead white show well in X-ray
mouth series may therefore result in an exposure of up to 6 photographs.
(digital) to 18 (film) mrem, for a yearly average of up to 40  X-ray spectromicroscopy has been used to analyse the
mrem.[47][48][49][50][51][52][53] reactions of pigments in paintings. For example, in
analysing colour degradation in the paintings of van
Other uses Gogh[55]
 Airport security luggage scanners use X-rays for Physik Institut, University of Freiburg, on 1 January
inspecting the interior of luggage for security threats
before loading on aircraft. 1896[58][59]
 Border control truck scanners use X-rays for inspecting
X-rays were found emanating from Crookes tubes,
the interior of trucks.
experimental discharge tubes invented around 1875, by
scientists investigating the cathode rays, that is
X-ray fine art photography ofneedlefish by Peter Dazeley energetic electron beams, that were first created in the tubes.
Crookes tubes created free electrons byionization of the
 X-ray art and fine art photography, artistic use of X-rays, residual air in the tube by a high DCvoltage of anywhere
for example the works by Stane Jagodič between a few kilovolts and 100 kV. This voltage accelerated
 X-ray hair removal, a method popular in the 1920s but the electrons coming from the cathode to a high enough
now banned by the FDA.[56] velocity that they created X-rays when they struck
the anode or the glass wall of the tube. Many of the early
 Shoe-fitting fluoroscopes were popularized in the 1920s,
Crookes tubes undoubtedly radiated X-rays, because early
banned in the US in the 1960s, banned in the UK in the
researchers noticed effects that were attributable to them, as
1970s, and even later in continental Europe.
detailed below. Wilhelm Röntgen was the first to
 Roentgen stereophotogrammetry is used to track
systematically study them, in 1895.[60]
movement of bones based on the implantation of markers
 X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy is a chemical analysis Early research
technique relying on thephotoelectric effect, usually
Both William Crookes (in the 1880s)[61] and German
employed in surface science.
physicist Johann Hittorf[citation needed], a co-inventor and early
researcher of the Crookes tube, found thatphotographic
plates placed near the tube became unaccountably fogged or
Discovery flawed by shadows. Neither found the cause nor investigated
this effect.
In 1877 Ukrainian-born Ivan Pulyui, a lecturer in experimental
physics at the University of Vienna, constructed various
Wilhelm Röntgen designs of vacuum discharge tube to investigate their
properties.[62] He continued his investigations when appointed
German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen is usually credited as the professor at the Prague Polytechnic and in 1886 he found that
discoverer of X-rays in 1895, because he was the first to sealed photographic plates became dark when exposed to the
systematically study them, though he is not the first to have emanations from the tubes. Early in 1896, just a few weeks
observed their effects. He is also the one who gave them the after Röntgen published his first X-ray photograph, Pulyui
name "X-rays" (signifying an unknown quantity[57]) though published high-quality X-ray images in journals in Paris and
many others referred to these as "Röntgen rays" (and the London.[62] Although Pulyui had studied with Röntgen at
associated X-ray radiograms as, "Röntgenograms") for the University of Strasbourg in the years 1873–75, his
several decades after their discovery and even to this day in biographer Gaida (1997) asserts that his subsequent research
some languages, including Röntgen's native German. was conducted independently.[62]
Hand mit Ringen (Hand with Rings): print of Wilhelm
Röntgen's first "medical" X-ray, of his wife's hand, taken on
22 December 1895 and presented to Ludwig Zehnderof the
Taking an X-ray image with early Crookes tube apparatus, Wilhelm Röntgen

late 1800s. The Crookes tube is visible in center. The standing

man is viewing his hand with a fluoroscope screen. No 1896 plaque published in "Nouvelle Iconographie de la
precautions against radiation exposure are taken; its hazards Salpetrière", a medical journal. In the left a hand deformity,
were not known at the time. in the right same hand seen using radiography. The authors
X-rays were generated and detected by Fernando designated the technique as Röntgen photography.
Sanford (1854–1948), the foundation Professor of Physics
at Stanford University, in 1891. From 1886 to 1888 he had On November 8, 1895, German physics professor Wilhelm
studied in the Hermann Helmholtzlaboratory in Berlin, where Röntgen stumbled on X-rays while experimenting
he became familiar with the cathode rays generated in with Lenard and Crookes tubes and began studying them. He
vacuum tubes when a voltage was applied across separate wrote an initial report "On a new kind of ray: A preliminary
electrodes, as previously studied by Heinrich Hertz and Philipp communication" and on December 28, 1895 submitted it to
Lenard. His letter of January 6, 1893 (describing his discovery the Würzburg's Physical-Medical Society journal.[69] This was
as "electric photography") to The Physical Review was duly the first paper written on X-rays. Röntgen referred to the
published and an article entitled Without Lens or Light, radiation as "X", to indicate that it was an unknown type of
Photographs Taken With Plate and Object in radiation. The name stuck, although (over Röntgen's great
Darkness appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.[63] objections) many of his colleagues suggested calling
them Röntgen rays. They are still referred to as such in
Starting in 1888, Philipp Lenard, a student of Heinrich Hertz, many languages, including German, Danish, Polish, Swedish,
conducted experiments to see whether cathode rays could Finnish, Estonian, Russian, Japanese, Dutch, and Norwegian.
pass out of the Crookes tube into the air. He built a Crookes Röntgen received the first Nobel Prize in Physics for his
tube (later called a "Lenard tube") with a "window" in the end discovery.[70]
made of thin aluminum, facing the cathode so the cathode
rays would strike it. He found that something came through, There are conflicting accounts of his discovery because
that would expose photographic plates and cause Röntgen had his lab notes burned after his death, but this is a
fluorescence. He measured the penetrating power of these likely reconstruction by his biographers:[71][72]Röntgen was
rays through various materials. It has been suggested that at investigating cathode rays using a fluorescent screen painted
least some of these "Lenard rays" were actually X-rays.[64] with barium platinocyanide and a Crookes tube which he had
wrapped in black cardboard so the visible light from the tube
Hermann von Helmholtz formulated mathematical equations would not interfere. He noticed a faint green glow from the
for X-rays. He postulated a dispersion theory before Röntgen screen, about 1 meter away. Röntgen realized some invisible
made his discovery and announcement. It was formed on the rays coming from the tube were passing through the
basis of the electromagnetic theory of light.[65] However, he cardboard to make the screen glow. He found they could also
did not work with actual X-rays. pass through books and papers on his desk. Röntgen threw
In 1894 Nikola Tesla noticed damaged film in his lab that himself into investigating these unknown rays systematically.
seemed to be associated with Crookes tube experiments and Two months after his initial discovery, he published his paper.
began investigating this radiant energy of "invisible" Röntgen discovered its medical use when he made a picture
kinds.[66][67] After Röntgen identified the x-ray Tesla began of his wife's hand on a photographic plate formed due to X-
making X-ray images of his own using high voltages and rays. The photograph of his wife's hand was the first
tubes of his own design,[68] as well as Crookes tubes. photograph of a human body part using X-rays. When she
saw the picture, she said "I have seen my death."[73]
Advances in radiology Gilman Frost, professor of medicine at the college, and his
brother Edwin Frost, professor of physics, exposed the wrist
of Eddie McCarthy, whom Gilman had treated some weeks
earlier for a fracture, to the X-rays and collected the resulting
A simplified diagram of a water cooled X-ray tube
image of the broken bone ongelatin photographic
In 1895, Thomas Edison investigated materials' ability to plates obtained from Howard Langill, a local photographer
fluoresce when exposed to X-rays, and found that calcium also interested in Röntgen's work.[23]
tungstate was the most effective substance. Around March Dangers
1896, the fluoroscope he developed became the standard for
medical X-ray examinations. Nevertheless, Edison dropped X- With the widespread experimentation with x-rays after their
ray research around 1903, even before the death of Clarence discovery in 1895 by scientists, physicians, and inventors
Madison Dally, one of his glassblowers. Dally had a habit of came many stories of burns, hair loss and worse in technical
testing X-ray tubes on his hands, and acquired a cancer in journals of the time. In February 1896 Professor John Daniel
them so tenacious that both arms were amputated in a futile and Dr.William Lofland Dudley of Vanderbilt
attempt to save his life. University reported hair loss after Dr. Dudley was X-rayed. In
August 1896 Dr. H/D. Hawks, a graduate of Columbia
In 1901, U.S. President William McKinley was shot twice in College, suffered severe hand and chest burns in an x-ray
an assassination attempt. While one bullet only grazed demonstration. It was reported inElectrical Review and led to
his sternum, another had lodged somewhere deep inside many other reports of problems associated with x-rays being
his abdomen and could not be found. "A worried McKinley sent in to the publication.[78] Many experimenters
aide sent word to inventor Thomas Edison to rush an X-ray including Elihu Thomson at Edison's lab, William J. Morton,
machine to Buffalo to find the stray bullet. It arrived but and Nikola Tesla also reported burns. Elihu Thomson
wasn't used." While the shooting itself had not been lethal, deliberately exposed a finger to an x-ray tube over a period of
"gangrene had developed along the path of the bullet, and time and suffered pain, swelling, and blistering.[79]Other
McKinley died of septic shock due to bacterial infection" six effects were sometime blamed for the damage including
days later.[74] ultraviolet rays and (according to Tesla) ozone.[80] Many
The first use of X-rays under clinical conditions was by John physicians claimed there were no effects from x-ray exposure
Hall-Edwards in Birmingham, England on 11 January 1896, at all.[79]
when he radiographed a needle stuck in the hand of an 20th century and beyond
associate.[75] On 14 February 1896 Hall-Edwards was also the
first to use X-rays in a surgical operation.[76] In early 1896,
several weeks after Röntgen's discovery, Ivan Romanovich
Tarkhanov irradiated frogs and insects with X-rays, A male technician taking an X-ray of a female patient in 1940.
concluding that the rays "not only photograph, but also affect This image was used to argue that radiation exposure during
the living function".[77]
the X-ray procedure would be negligible.
The first medical X-ray made in the United States was
obtained using a discharge tube of Pulyui's design. In January The many applications of X-rays immediately generated
1896, on reading of Röntgen's discovery, Frank Austin enormous interest. Workshops began making specialized
of Dartmouth College tested all of the discharge tubes in the versions of Crookes tubes for generating X-rays and these
physics laboratory and found that only the Pulyui tube first generation cold cathode or Crookes X-ray tubes were
produced X-rays. This was a result of Pulyui's inclusion of an used until about 1920.
oblique "target" of mica, used for holding samples
Crookes tubes were unreliable. They had to contain a small
of fluorescent material, within the tube. On 3 February 1896 quantity of gas (invariably air) as a current will not flow in
such a tube if they are fully evacuated. However, as time to have his left arm amputated because of the spread of X-
passed the X-rays caused the glass to absorb the gas, causing ray dermatitis on his arm.[81]
the tube to generate "harder" X-rays until it soon stopped
The X-ray microscope was developed during the 1950s.
operating. Larger and more frequently used tubes were
provided with devices for restoring the air, known as The Chandra X-ray Observatory, launched on July 23, 1999,
"softeners". These often took the form of a small side tube has been allowing the exploration of the very violent
which contained a small piece of mica: a mineral that traps processes in the universe which produce X-rays. Unlike visible
relatively large quantities of air within its structure. A small light, which gives a relatively stable view of the universe, the
electrical heater heated the mica and this caused it to release X-ray universe is unstable. It features stars being torn apart
a small amount of air, thus restoring the tube's efficiency. by black holes, galactic collisions, and novae or neutron
However, the mica had a limited life, and the restoration stars that build up layers of plasma that then explode into
process was consequently difficult to control. space.
In 1904, John Ambrose Fleming invented the thermionic An X-ray laser device was proposed as part of the Reagan
diode, the first kind of a vacuum tube. This used a hot Administration's Strategic Defense Initiative in the 1980s, but
cathode that caused an electric current to flow in a vacuum. the only test of the device (a sort of laser "blaster", ordeath
This idea was quickly applied to X-ray tubes, and hence ray, powered by a thermonuclear explosion) gave
heated-cathode X-ray tubes, called "Coolidge tubes", inconclusive results. For technical and political reasons, the
completely replaced the troublesome cold cathode tubes by overall project (including the X-ray laser) was de-funded
about 1920. (though was later revived by the second Bush
Administration as National Missile Defense using different
In about 1906, the physicist Charles Barkla discovered that X-
rays could be scattered by gases, and that each element had
a characteristic X-ray. He won the 1917 Nobel Prize in
Physics for this discovery.
In 1912, Max von Laue, Paul Knipping, and Walter Friedrich Golden Doodle dog hip xray posterior view
first observed the diffraction of X-rays by crystals. This
discovery, along with the early work of Paul Peter
Ewald, William Henry Bragg, and William Lawrence Bragg,
gave birth to the field of X-ray crystallography. Phase-contrast x-ray image of spider
The Coolidge X-ray tube was invented during the following Phase-contrast X-ray imaging refers to a variety of techniques
year by William D. Coolidge. It made possible the continuous that use phase information of a coherent x-ray beam to
emissions of X-rays. X-ray tubes similar to this are still in use image soft tissues. It has become an important method for
in 2012. visualizing cellular and histological structures in a wide range
of biological and medical studies. There are several
technologies being used for x-ray phase-contrast imaging, all
utilizing different principles to convert phase variations in the
Chandra's image of the galaxy cluster Abell 2125 reveals a x-rays emerging from an object into intensity
complex of several massive multimillion-degree-Celsius gas variations.[82][83] These include propagation-based phase
contrast,[84] talbot interferometry,[83] refraction-enhanced
clouds in the process of merging.
imaging,[85] and x-ray interferometry.[86] These methods
The use of X-rays for medical purposes (which developed into provide higher contrast compared to normal absorption-
the field of radiation therapy) was pioneered by Major John contrast x-ray imaging, making it possible to see smaller
Hall-Edwards in Birmingham, England. Then in 1908, he had details. A disadvantage is that these methods require more
sophisticated equipment, such required to create one coulomb of charge of each polarity
as synchrotron or microfocus x-ray sources, x-ray optics and in one kilogram of matter.
high resolution x-ray detectors.  The roentgen (R) is an obsolete traditional unit of
exposure, which represented the amount of radiation
Visibility required to create one electrostatic unit of charge of each
polarity in one cubic centimeter of dry air. 1 roentgen =
While generally considered invisible to the human eye, in
2.58×10−4 C/kg.
special circumstances X-rays can be visible. Brandes, in an
experiment a short time after Röntgen's landmark 1895 However, the effect of ionizing radiation on matter (especially
paper, reported after dark adaptation and placing his eye living tissue) is more closely related to the amount
close to an X-ray tube, seeing a faint "blue-gray" glow which of energydeposited into them rather than the charge
seemed to originate within the eye itself.[87] Upon hearing generated. This measure of energy absorbed is called
this, Röntgen reviewed his record books and found he too had the absorbed dose:
seen the effect. When placing an X-ray tube on the opposite
side of a wooden door Röntgen had noted the same blue  The gray (Gy), which has units of (joules/kilogram), is the
glow, seeming to emanate from the eye itself, but thought his SI unit of absorbed dose, and it is the amount of radiation
observations to be spurious because he only saw the effect required to deposit one joule of energy in one kilogram of
when he used one type of tube. Later he realized that the any kind of matter.
tube which had created the effect was the only one powerful  The rad is the (obsolete) corresponding traditional unit,
enough to make the glow plainly visible and equal to 10 millijoules of energy deposited per kilogram.
the experiment was thereafter readily repeatable. The 100 rad = 1 gray.
knowledge that X-rays are actually faintly visible to the dark-
adapted naked eye has largely been forgotten today; this is The equivalent dose is the measure of the biological effect of
probably due to the desire not to repeat what would now be radiation on human tissue. For X-rays it is equal to
seen as a recklessly dangerous and potentially harmful theabsorbed dose.
experiment with ionizing radiation. It is not known what exact
mechanism in the eye produces the visibility: it could be due  The Roentgen equivalent man (rem) is the traditional unit
to conventional detection (excitation of rhodopsin molecules of equivalent dose. For X-rays it is equal to the rad, or, in
in the retina), direct excitation of retinal nerve cells, or other words, 10 millijoules of energy deposited per
secondary detection via, for instance, X-ray induction kilogram. 100 rem = 1 Sv.
of phosphorescence in the eyeball with conventional retinal  The sievert (Sv) is the SI unit of equivalent dose, and also
detection of the secondarily produced visible light. of effective dose. For X-rays the "equivalent dose" is
numerically equal to a Gray (Gy). 1 Sv = 1 Gy. For the
Though X-rays are otherwise invisible it is possible to see
"effective dose" of X-rays, it is usually not equal to the
the ionization of the air molecules if the intensity of the X-ray
Gray (Gy).
beam is high enough. The beamline from the wiggler at
the ID11 at ESRF is one example of such high intensity.[88]

Units of measure and exposure

The measure of X-rays ionizing ability is called the exposure:

 The coulomb per kilogram (C/kg) is the SI unit of ionizing

radiation exposure, and it is the amount of radiation