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How Do X-Ray Machines Work? This is What You Need to Understand

X-rays were first discovered in the 1890s, but scientists weren’t sure why they behaved the way they did. Taking a hint from mathematics, they called the discovery x-rays after ‘x,’ the letter used to signify unknown variables in an equation.

While the scientific community has long since discovered the science behind x-rays, it’s not exactly common knowledge. Many people don’t know  what the substance is or why it can capture pictures of our skeletons.

The good news is that we can help. We’ll talk more about x-ray machines and how they work in the paragraphs below.

1. Electromagnetism

X-rays function due to the basic principles of electromagnetism and radiation. When x-rays were first discovered, the harnessing of electricity was roughly ten years old.

William Roentgen, the physicist who discovered x-rays, was originally experimenting on how electricity behaved in a vacuum. He kept the electricity in a tube for this experiment, but some of the electricity escaped the tube by passing through a metal electrode.

2. Radiation

By passing through the electrode, the electricity became a new type of radiation. Radiation is a term that technically encompasses all light, but is often used to describe Ultraviolet light and other short, potentially harmful waves.

This new type of radiation hit a flourescent screen on the wall. Flourescent objects usually glow when they come in contact with electromagnetic energy, and scientists already knew that at the time.

However, Roentgen had enclosed the tube in a cardboard box, which he didn’t expect the light to pass through. Further experimentation found that the light passed through many solid objects, not just cardboard.

The only objects the light didn’t pass through were bones.

3. A Question of Density

Why hadn’t the radiation passed through bone? The answer has to do with density.

It’s a scientific fact that everything in the universe is made up of atoms. Most of our bodies are made up of small particles that are loosely-clustered. Because of this, x-ray radiation tends to pass right through them, and they will not show up on an image.

However, calcium, which makes up our bones, is a much larger, denser atom. It’s dense enough that it actually absorbs the x-ray particles that attempt to pass through it. Thus, a gap is created in the shape of our skeletons when we’re put under an x-ray.

Though x-rays are dangerous in certain amounts, x-ray machines use tiny bits of it to create images. How do they keep the amount of x-rays so tiny may just be a question to ask your doctor.

The Science of X-ray Machines

The science behind x-ray machines is truly fascinating. We’ve talked a bit about it in the paragraphs below, but there’s a lot more out there. Science is usually far more complex than what can be summed up in an article.

We encourage you to do more research on your own if you’re interested.

If you want more information and advice on medical care please visit our site. Have an injury, but not sure if you need an emergency room? We can help.