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  X-rays are electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength between 0.4 and 100 nanometers. They consist of relatively high energy photons that are used for their penetrating powers to produce images of the interior of bodies or structures. They were first discovered by Wilhelm Röntgen in 1895. He was able to show that they were able to penetrate bodies to varying degrees depending on the density of the substance. Their discovery was taken up immediately by the medical profession to locate foreign bodies and broken bones within the human body. Early experiments with x-rays were sometimes far fetched, such as a textile company who tried to market x-ray-proof underwear for the modest woman. This fatuous attempt has reflections at the present time since we now know that exposure to even small amounts of x-ray radiation to be hazardous to health and workers using x-rays require to take special precautions to avoid receiving any excessive amounts. Hospital patients generally have their reproductive organs screened during x-ray imaging since even low levels of exposure may induce abnormalities in the unborn child.

As well as being used in medicine, x-rays also have a wide range of industrial and scientific uses. In industry they are used to detect the cracks associated with metal fatigue and fissures in such items as aircraft wings and pressure vessels such as boilers or nuclear reactors.

In the field of astronomy, x-ray emissions from stars and constellations give valuable information relating to their nature and dynamics. At the other end of the dimensional spectrum, in the electron microscope the x-rays scattered from the specimen give signals which can be analysed to determine the chemical elements which are present. AA

See also wave-particle duality.Further reading G.L. Clarke, Applied X-rays.



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