Today in Science History – March 27 – Wilhelm Roentgen and X-rays

Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen
Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (1845 – 1923)

March 27 is the birthday of Wilhelm Röntgen. Röntgen (also spelled Roentgen) was a German physicist who was awarded the first Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of Röntgen rays, or as he called them: x-rays.

Röntgen was initially investigating cathode rays (electron beam) in vacuum tubes. He had covered his apparatus with an opaque layer of black material and was working in the dark when he noticed a fluorescent glow which could not have come from the cathode rays. He discovered the glow was caused by a new ray of energy that he called x-rays to signify their unknown origins.

First medical X-ray
First X-ray image of Mrs. Röntgen’s hand.

Röntgen also noticed if he exposed his hand to these rays in front of a phosphorescent screen, he could see the image of his bones through an outline of his skin. He enlisted the help of his wife and substituted the screen with a photographic plate and created the first x-ray image. This x-ray shows four of Mrs. Röntgen’s fingers and her wedding ring and started a new era in medicine.

In 2004, the IUPAC renamed element 111 to roentgenium in honor of Röntgen’s accomplishments.

Notable Science History Events for March 27

2007 – Paul Christian Lauterbur died.

Lauterbur was an American chemist who shares the 2003 Nobel Prize in Medicine with Peter Mansfield for the development of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). The MRI uses nuclear magnetic resonance to image the interior of a body. Lauterbur built the first MRI machine and Mansfield further streamlined the process.

1968 – Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin died.

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin
Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin (1934 – 1968)

Gagarin was a Soviet cosmonaut who became the first person in space. On April 12, 1961, Gagarin was launched aboard Vostok 1 and orbited the Earth once before re-entering the atmosphere and parachuting to safety. He was never assigned to another spaceflight because of his celebrity and nation’s fear of losing him in an accident.

1967 – Jaroslav Heyrovsky died.

Jaroslav Heyrovský
Jaroslav Heyrovský (1890 – 1967)

Heyrovsky was a Czech chemist who was awarded the 1959 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of polarography. Polarography is an analytical tool that uses a dropping mercury electrode (DME) to investigate the effects of varying currents and potentials of a compound. It was the first successful voltammetry technique and the beginning of a new method of analytical chemistry. Voltammetry is a useful technique to use as a sensor to monitor chemical levels remotely in industrial, biological or hazardous situations.

1942 – John E. Sulston was born.

Sulston was a British biologist who shares the 2002 Nobel Prize in Medicine with Sydney Brenner and H. Robert Horvitz for research into organ development and programmed cell death. They identified how genes regulate the life cycle of cells through apoptosis.

1923 – James Dewar died.

James Dewar
James Dewar (1842 – 1923)


1890 – Carl Jacob Löwig died.


1847 – Otto Wallach was born.

Otto Wallach (1847-1931)



1845 – Wilhelm Röntgen (or Roentgen) was born.