Saturday, March 27, 2010

X man

The bearded fellow above is one Wilhelm Rontgen born this day 1845, in Lennep, Prussia. The only son of a cloth merchant and his Dutch wife, young Wilhelm eventually enrolled at the Federal Polytechnic Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. He graduated from there with a degree in mechanical engineering, and eventually obtain his PhD from the University of Zurich in 1869. A PhD at the age of 25, not sure he was on some sort of accelerated pace or not, but that degree at that age is a pretty neat little accomplishment. After bouncing around a bit, he eventually would up, by special request of the Bavarian government, as the chair in physics at the University of Munich. He had considered emigrating to America, and had even bought the ticket, and accepted a post at Columbia University, but World War I sort of changed his plans, and he remained at the University of Munich for the rest of his career. It was while at Munich that, in 1895, he made the "discovery" that made him famous, and makes him our hero of the day. That discovery, made somewhat on accident, was the discovery of X-rays. The second picture above is an image of the first X-ray ever taken, that of his wife's hand, notice the wedding band, and upon seeing the result she exclaimed "I have seen my death!" Maybe she saw it that way, but for millions of us since the X-ray has been very important in preventing death. Herr Rontgen named the unknown ray he discovered the "X" ray, using the letter that represents an unknown in algebra, and he resisted any attempt to change that name to something honouring him. However, in some countries they are, to this day, known as Rontgen rays. He published his first paper on the new kind of rays 50 days later, and subsequently wrote a total of three papers on them. For this discovery, which was not as accidental as people have been led to believe (it was an accident of timing, he was on the right road, and would have made the discovery sooner or later), he was awarded the first ever Nobel Prize in physics in 1901. He died on February 10, 1923 of cancer of the intestine, but it seems that his work with his fancy new type of rays was not the cause of his death. He was one of the few early researchers in the field to use lead protective shields. So, for discovering a way for doctors to get a good peek at our skeletons, and other vital parts without having to cut us open like an overripe watermelon, Wilhelm Rontgen (March 27th,1845-February 10th, 1923, at the age of 77), you are my (213th) hero of the day.

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