Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen

Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen biography
Nicola Perscheid / Public Domain

Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen biography

Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (1845-1923). Physicist and German engineer. He was born in Lennep, Prussia. Current Germany. His father was a textile merchant. When he was three years old his family moved to Apeldoorn, Holland. In his puberty, he left home to join the Technical School of Utrecht and lived at the home of chemist Jan Willem Gunning. His season at the School was not long because he was accused of drawing a defamatory caricature of a teacher. After that, he followed some courses at the University of Utrecht as a listener and not as a regular student for not having met the necessary requirements.

At the age of 20, he arrived in Zurich and began his studies in mechanical engineering. But he was more interested in the basic sciences and, essentially, in physics, due to the influence of his professors Julius Clausius and August Kundt. He graduated in 1869. When Kundt replaced Clausius in the chair of physics, he took Wilhelm as an assistant. Together they reorganized the laboratory of experimental physics. Later Kundt moved to the University of Würzburg taking Röntgen with him Röntgen. However, the University still did not give him an academic position because he did not pass the Latin and Greek exams that were then required.

Later he taught at different venues of the University of Strasbourg. His research focused on various fields of physics, such as elasticity, capillary phenomena, absorption of heat and specific heats of gases, and heat conduction in crystals and piezoelectricity.

In 1872 Kundt, and also Röntgen, moved to the University of Strasbourg. There he was granted the position of professor in 1874. The works he developed were concerned with the specific heat of the gases, the thermal conductivity by the crystals and the rotation of the plane of polarization of the light by the crystals. A year later he taught professors in the faculty of mathematics and chemistry at the Hoffenheim Agricultural Academy. But this institution did not meet their expectations, therefore, decided to return to Strasbourg, where he spent more time to research and theoretical physics. This was a culminating moment for him because he formulated multiple investigations.

In 1879 he was director of the Institute of Physics of the Hessian-Ludwigs University, in Giessen. There he continued his investigative work accompanied by good facilities and great economic support. This position allowed him to work exclusively on the axis of the relationship between light and electricity. Later during a visit to the University Würzwug, he met the histologist Rudolf Kölliquer, with him he analyzed the effects of pressure on the properties of liquids and solids.

In 1895, while he was experimenting, he observed that a sample of barium platinocyanide placed near the glass tube emitted light when it was in operation. For such a phenomenon, he argued that, at the moment when the cathode rays hit the glass of the tube, an unknown radiation is formed capable of moving to the chemical and causing a luminescence reaction. Subsequent investigations revealed that paper, wood, and aluminum, cause this same phenomenon. The German physicist determined that the rays propagated in a straight line, with high levels of energy, since they ionized the air and did not get lost by the electric and magnetic fields. Because of its strange nature, he called this type of radiation, x-rays.

The discovery began to be applied to the field of Medicine, Wilhelm along with some doctors carried out tests to be able to take x-rays of the bones. On December 28, 1895, Röntgen wrote and sent his discovery, attaching an X-ray of his own hand as a sample, to a scientific journal. Some members of the magazine such as Poincaré shared it at a weekly meeting of the Académie des Sciences in Paris and suggested to his colleague and friend Antoine-Henri Becquerel, who was working on the properties of uranium salts and other substances that showed fluorescence, approaching Rontgen to learn more about that novel experiment. Thanks to the famous discovery of X-rays in 1901, he obtained the first Nobel Prize in Physics.

The discovery of X-rays was a revolution for physics and medicine, and also represented an advance for the scientific world and the scientists who were developing this type of axis. His discovery generated the impetus of radiology as a branch of science and signaled the beginning of the era of electronics, in addition to providing facilities to medicine in terms of diagnostic methods. Some detractors tried to veto them by claiming that it violated privacy and that it was possible to see naked women, such was the case that there were scammers who sold anti-X-ray clothing.

The American inventor and industrialist Thomas Edison offered to buy the X-ray patent, to which Röntgen flatly refused. Although the business could not be carried out, Edison installed an attraction at the New York Electric Exhibition in 1896 where, for a few coins, he could put his hand in front of an X-ray machine that projected the bones on a fluorescent screen, this was a boom. With the outbreak of the First World War, Röntgen took refuge in a country house in Wilheim, in the Bavarian Alps. During that time his wife Bertha died. From then on he lived modestly, resigned his teaching position and his health began to decline. Finally, he died on February 10, 1923, in the city of Munich as a result of intestinal cancer.

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