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Double focus X-ray tube, Europe, 1896

This tube from 1896 worked by using an alternating current, which accelerates electrons towards an aluminium plate. This produced x-rays at both ends of the tube. Wilhelm Röntgen, a German physician, took the first x-ray in 1895 of his wife’s left hand. Dense areas of bone show up as white whilst soft tissue allow the x-ray to pass through undeterred. Very quickly x-rays proved their usefulness as a diagnostic and therapeutic tool in medicine. Within six months of Röntgen’s announcement x-rays were being used by battlefield physicians to locate bullets in wounded soldiers. X-rays allowed physicians their first look inside the body without resorting to surgery.

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Glossary: radiology

The scientific study of X-rays and other high energy radiation, especially as used in medicine.

Glossary: x-ray tube

The part of an X-ray machine that produces X-rays. The tube itself operates under vacuum conditions.