Foto: argus/ Maik Schröder mit freundlicher Genehmigung des Instituts für Mikrotechnik Mainz GmbH Quelle: DLR Göttingen Quelle: DLR Göttingen
Physik im Kontext
What are X-Rays
Röntgen's Discovery
History of Radiology
X-Ray Production
X-rays & Matter
Detection Issues
Detection Methods
Background: Fluorescence

Physics & the Detection of Medical X-Rays

"No substance is so dense as to prevent rays from passing. The rays of heat and sound penetrate through the walls of a vessel of gold or brass."

--Roger Bacon, circa 1270

X-rays images are one of the most important tools of a physician who is attempting to diagnose an internal injury or disease. Because these "rays" can pass through human and animal tissue and their absorption depends strongly on the density of the material, x-ray images provide details of the internal parts of the body.

X-rays are also used in the treatment of some diseases, particularly cancer.  They are valuable for such treatments because the x-rays interact with the atoms and molecules in cells in such a way to alter or kill the cells.  Thus, x-rays are used to destroy tissue that is not functioning properly.

These two medical uses of x-rays emphasize a basic problem with using x-rays to obtain images.  The same x-ray that can help the physician find out what is worn with a patient can do damage to that patient's body.  The x-rays that are being used to help can also hurt. 

This paradox as been mostly resolved with the application of atomic physics to the recording of x-ray images.  Atomic processes such a fluorescence and the photo electric effect are routine components of the imaging procedure.  Their effective use result in much lower doses than would otherwise be possible.  Patients can be diagnosed without putting them in significant danger.

This set of Web pages has been prepared to provide teachers with background information so they can teach about this successful application of physics to contemporary medicine.  Each of the links on the left of the page lead to short discussions and links to related materials. Most of the Web pages are not written specifically for physics students.  A few of them are aimed at medical students, but most are information about some aspect of the issue of minimizing x-ray dosage to patients or historical and physics background about the topic.

One of our goals is to prepared some interactive lessons for physics students on this topic.  Check back later to see how we are doing.

The links below provide broad overviews of radiology and the physical science upon which it is founded.  (This project is a joint effort of Physik im Kontext and Modern Miracle Medical Machines.  Thus, sites in English and German are included.) 

Before X-rays
The first chapter of a book, Naked to the bone: Medical Imaging in the Twentieth Century, this site contains a fascinating story of attempts by Alexander Graham Bell to find a bullet lodged in President James Garfield. Exploring Bell's attempt to "look" inside the President's body with electromagnetic induction would make a great physics lesson.

Fundamentals of Radiobiology
This course is divided into two sections.  This first part is "academic" and presents the basic science of x-rays that would be useful for a medical technician and some safety and patient comfort issues.  The first eleven sections are useful for our purposes.  The second part discusses details of taking medical x-rays.

Die Röntgenstrahlung
An overview of the production and detection of x-rays.

X-Ray 2000
A little bit of everything including lots of images, some material for young children and many links.

Grundlagen der Aufnahme- und Durchleuchtungstechnik
An overview that begins with some very basic physics.  This site is mosly text and qualitative.  It has some very annoying pop-up ads.

Medizinische Physik:Physikalische Grundlagen der medizinischen Bildgebung
18 sets of PowerPoint slides in PDF format.  The basics physics related to x-rays, CT scans and PET are included with a promise of more to come later.  The index for this set is in the lower half of the web page.

Physics of Medical X-ray Imaging  
A series of book-style chapters on this topic.                              

Non-Destructive Testing of Humans
This site has been prepared for medical students.  It has links to lecture note, PowerPoint slides and many images.  While it has limited use for our purposes, its title made it too good to omit.

Introduction to Radiology
This interactive site is primarily to help physicians learn to interpret images. 

Introduction to Radiographic Testing
This site is a course develop by the Coalition for Non-Destructive Testing.  The applications are not medical but much of the background information is quite useful.

X-rays & Gamma Rays
A series of lesson on x-rays and nuclear physics.  This site includes a variety of uses of radiation and is not limited to medical applications.

Radiology: History & Techniques
This site contains a history and a description of the science for x-rays, ultrasound, MRI, and nuclear imaging (using radioisotopes).  In English with one word of German.

The Art & Science of Medical Diagnostic Imaging
This site was created by students as a part of a medical  radiation technology project at the QUEENSLAND University of Technology.  It contains qualitative information and a large number of pictures about a variety of imaging techniques.

Physics of Medical Imaging – An Introduction
A text in PDF format which covers some of the basics physics.


   Flags indicate the language of the Web site.


In cooperation with
Modern Miracle Medical Machines
Physics Education Research Group
Kansas State University