X-rays are so common today you probably never stop to think about them. They help check a broken wrist, a sprained ankle, the state of our teeth. But a little more than a century ago, x-ray machines provided a revolution in medicine, allowing doctors to look inside the body. And now scientists in the Netherlands have gotten a chance to look at how the original technology functioned.
A first-generation anatomical imaging x-ray machine was built in Holland in early 1896. Advances to the technology came quickly, and that first machine was relegated to an old warehouse. Then a year ago, a Dutch radiologist got his hands on the machine and dusted it off. He and colleagues tested it using a cadaver hand. They published their research in the journal Radiology. [Martijn Kemerink et al., "Characteristics of a First-Generation X-Ray System"]
They found that an x-ray image that requires just 21 milliseconds today would have taken 90 minutes in 1896. And the radiation exposure would have been 1,500 times greater than modern technology’s. Early x-ray operators and researchers thus often suffered burns and other maladies. The scientists wrote that the images they produced with the ancient machine were severely blurred—but still awe-inspiring.
[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]