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What Did The First Ever Nobel Prize Winner Discover?

The first Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded by the King of Sweden to Wilhelm Röntgen in 1901 for discovering a mysterious new kind of radiation.


It was the late 19th century, the eve of a new era of scientific discoveries. Magic was out – electricity and magnetism were in, including cathode rays -though scientists knew little about them, besides the fact that these rays glow and are diverted by magnets.

Wilhelm Röntgen was really intrigued by cathode rays.

Today we know that cathode rays are actually electrons sucked from a negatively charged cathode toward a positively charged anode.

Röntgen decided to experiment further: he turned off the lights and covered the tube with a sealed box. But what is this? Somehow, something penetrated the sealed box and lit up a fluorescent cardboard screen behind it.

Wilhelm was puzzled!

He realized that he just discovered a new kind of radiation that can go through stuff. He knew these are no ordinary cathode rays since magnets did not affect them, so he named them “X-rays”.

Wilhelm and his wife, Anna, started testing various materials to see what could possibly block this new and wonderful rays that seemed to penetrate opaque objects.

They discovered that not only certain metals block x-rays, but bones as well.

Röntgen knew he was on to something really big… but what exactly are X-rays?

It was unknown at the time that light rays are actually a stream of particles called photons.

As the fast electrons hit the glass and come to a stop, their kinetic energy is transferred to light, and they release photons.

The color of photons is associated with their energy – blue photons, for example, are nearly twice as energetic as red photons,

But if we increase the voltage and make the electrons go much faster they release X-ray photons that are 10,000 times more energetic than any visible light!!!

They easily penetrate almost anything – including our flesh, but not our bones.

Röntgen’s rays did not only provide a new, life-saving way to look inside our own bodies without cutting ourselves open, they also provided the scientific world with sharper new eyes.

With their ultrashort wavelength, X-ray photons enable imaging of objects that are thousands of times smaller than what can be seen with regular light ! This led to numerous scientific breakthroughs – from revealing the atomic structure of crystals, to the discovery of the DNA.

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