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X-ray tube, Germany, c. 1896

X-rays were discovered during a routine experiment in 1895 by German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen. This type of tube is the same type used by Röntgen in his research. Röntgen noticed a glass tube containing electrodes was glowing. He found mysterious rays were emitted as electricity passed between the electrodes. These rays showed up on photographic plates. Röntgen called them ‘X’ for unknown. X-rays were quickly taken up by physicians to look inside the body without surgery. Most hospitals in the UK had specialist X-ray departments and equipment by the 1930s.

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Glossary: x-ray tube

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

Glossary: x-rays

A wave of electromagnetic radiation that has high energy and short wavelength. It is able to pass through many materials, except those of high density such as metals or bones. Discovered in 1895 by William Roentgen.