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A new kind of radiation-the first Nobel Prize in Physics goes to: WÜRZBURG

Do you know the story of Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen and the discovery of X-rays?

The discovery of the "new kind of rays" is not only considered an outstanding moment in the history of physics, but was also the trigger of a revolution in medicine.

During experiments on the evening of 08 November 1895 in a laboratory* typical of the time in the physics institute of the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg, Prof. Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, as always most eager to do research, accidentally and unintentionally discovered a phenomenon: while examining a cathodic ray tube, he observed that a fluorescent material he placed near the tube lit up, although the tube was covered by a black card. It was immediately clear to Röntgen that something could penetrate the material of the card, so he extended his experiments....

Modestly, as he was always described, he called his discovery: X-rays - x stands for the unknown !

All hell broke loose", Röntgen wrote to his Swiss friend and colleague Ludwig Zehnder - although he had seen the hype coming: "" I had told no one about my work: I only told my wife that I was doing something of which people, when they heard about it, would say: "Röntgen must have gone mad".

During a lecture in the circle of his professorial colleagues only a few days later, he produces an X-ray of the hand of the anatomist Albert von Kölliker in front of the audience. The latter then suggested renaming the X-rays as X-rays. The audience agreed to this with an ovation.

At the beginning of 1896, the Viennese "Presse" was the first to report on the mysterious, invisible rays that penetrated almost all matter. News of their discovery by the German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen spread throughout Europe and America via telegraph lines.

Five years after the discovery of the X-rays, the Nobel Prize Committee honoured Röntgen's achievement with the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901. The Swedish Academy of Sciences invites him to Stockholm for the ceremonial awarding of the first Nobel Prizes ever awarded.

According to the founder, Alfred Nobel, the prize is to be awarded to those who have made the greatest contribution to mankind in the past year.

On 10 December Röntgen receives the diploma, the cash prize of 50,000 kronor and a gold medal from the Swedish Crown Prince. This is followed by a sumptuous dinner. The very next morning, however, Röntgen starts his return journey and leaves Stockholm without giving a speech like the other laureates. The Nobel Prize is neither the first nor the last award and honour the modest physicist receives. On the tenth anniversary of the discovery, his colleagues donated a marble plaque in his honour in Würzburg, which is still displayed there today.

Even today, 100 years after his death (10 February 1923), X-rays are used not only in medical diagnostics and therapy. Hardly any other discovery of the 19th century had such an influence on science and technology as Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen's discovery of "X-rays" 125 years ago.

According to calculations by the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS), around 140,000,000 X-ray examinations are carried out in Germany alone.

In other natural sciences, art, archaeology and security technology, too, X-rays make visible what remains hidden to the naked eye.

In climate research, for example, X-rays are used to draw conclusions about changes in environmental conditions by imaging the growth rings of corals.

In art, old masters are X-rayed to distinguish originals from fakes, because even oil paints from different eras absorb X-rays to different degrees. The entire history of a painting's creation can be made visible through X-rays.

Spared from the terrible destruction in the last days of the Second World War, Conrad Röntgen's historical research laboratory can be visited permanently throughout the calendar year as part of a museum at the University of Würzburg. Since 2016, this laboratory and Würzburg have joined the ranks of world cities such as London, Paris, Madrid, Rome, Berlin and Munich, distinguished by the European Physical Society ( EPS) as an Outstanding Historical Site.

You will find the Röntgen Memorial at Röntgenring 8, 97070 Würzburg. Learn more here:


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