Feature | March 21, 2011

Tests on 105-Year-Old X-Ray Shows How Far Technology Advanced

A comparison of an X-ray of a hand using 1896 technology (left) and a modern digital radiography X-ray system.

Researchers recently tested first-generation X-ray equipment from 1896 and found it produced radiation doses and exposure times that were vastly higher than those of today’s systems, according to a study published online and in the May print edition of Radiology.

“To my knowledge, nobody had ever done systematic measurements on this equipment, since by the time one had the tools, these systems had been replaced by more sophisticated ones,” said the study’s lead author, Gerrit J. Kemerink, Ph.D., from Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

Wilhelm Roentgen reported his discovery of X-rays on Dec. 28, 1895. A few weeks later, H.J. Hoffmans, a physicist and high school director in Maastricht, the Netherlands, and L.T. van Kleef, M.D., director of a local hospital, performed anatomical imaging experiments with an X-ray system built from equipment at Hoffmans’ high school. Key elements of the system included a high-voltage transformer and a glass bulb with metal electrodes at each end.

Technology advanced rapidly, and the setup used by Hoffmans and Dr. van Kleef soon became obsolete. Eventually, the equipment ended up collecting dust in a Maastricht warehouse. A year ago, Jos M.A. van Engelshoven, M.D., Ph.D., former radiology head at the Maastricht University Medical Center, retrieved the equipment, most of which was still in working order, for a television program on the history of healthcare in the region. Kemerink then decided to analyze the setup in more detail.

The Maastricht researchers repeated some of the first imaging exams, using the equipment to image a hand specimen from a body that had been donated to science.

“We sometimes worked in a fully dark room that had black walls, with the only light coming from the flashing tube and from discharges in the spark gap,” Kemerink said. “Together with the irregular buzz of the interrupter and the crackling sound of the discharges, this created a very special, kind of ghostly, ambiance.”

The researchers compared the radiation dose, X-ray beam properties and electrical characteristics of the 1896 system with those from a modern X-ray system. Using the same exposure conditions used in 1896, the estimated skin dose needed to image the hand was nearly 1,500 times greater on the first-generation system than on the modern system — 74 milligrays (mGy) and 0.05 mGy, respectively. Corresponding exposure times were 90 minutes for the old system and 21 milliseconds for the modern system.

Pinhole images showed the X-rays originated from an extended area of the glass wall in the system’s construction, causing image blurring. Still, the 114-year-old system produced what Kemerink described as surprisingly good images in which anatomical details were clearly visible.

The high radiation doses and long exposures times of early X-ray equipment caused significant health problems for the technology’s pioneers. Adverse effects, such as eye complaints, skin burns and loss of hair, were reported within weeks of Roentgen’s discovery.

“Many operators of the early X-ray systems experienced severe damage to hands over time, often necessitating amputations or other surgery,” Kemerink said.

X-ray technology improved rapidly in the 20th century, with significantly lower radiation dose and exposure time and improved image quality, making it a convenient and safe imaging modality and an invaluable diagnostic tool.

Reference: Collaborating with Drs. Kemerink and van Engelshoven were Martijn Kemerink, Ph.D., Tom J. Dierichs, B.S., Julien Dierichs, B.S., Hubert J.M. Huynen, and Joachim E. Wildberger, M.D., Ph.D. “Characteristics of a First-Generation X-Ray System.” Radiology. March, 2011

For more information: http://radiology.rsna.org

Related Content

Rayence Demonstrates Full Digital Imaging Product Line at RSNA 2017
News | Digital Radiography (DR) | January 16, 2018
January 16, 2018 — Rayence recently showcased their entire line of new as well as enhanced digital imaging products a
Fat Distribution in Women and Men Provides Clues to Heart Attack Risk
News | Women's Health | January 11, 2018
January 11, 2018 – It’s not the amount of fat in your body but where it is stored that may increase your risk for hea
Emergency Radiologists See Inner Toll of Opioid Use Disorders

Rates of Imaging Positivity for IV-SUDs Complications. Image courtesy of Efren J. Flores, M.D.

News | Clinical Study | January 11, 2018
January 11, 2018 – Emergency radiologists are seeing a high prevalence of patients with complications related to opio
Hip Steroid Injections Associated with Bone Changes

58-year-old woman with left hip pain. X-ray from one month prior to the steroid/anesthetic injection demonstrates moderate joint space narrowing (arrows) and bony proliferation (arrowheads).

News | Orthopedic Imaging | January 11, 2018
January 11, 2018 – Osteoarthritis patients who received a steroid injection in the hip had a significantly greater in
Radiology Offers Clues in Cases of Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault

Image of 21-year-old woman, who presented with a chronic nasal bone fracture and soft tissue swelling of the left lateral face. Review of electronic medical records revealed presentation to an outside hospital 9 months ago with oblique fracture of the right ring finger proximal phalanx, blowout fracture of the medial wall of the left orbit and similar soft tissue swelling of the left face. Traumatic findings separated in time suggest recurrent violence. Image courtesy of Elizabeth George, M.D.

News | Orthopedic Imaging | January 08, 2018
Radiologic signs of injury could help identify victims of intimate partner violence, according to a study presented at...
New Thales Pixium Portable 3543 DR Features Embedded Patient Identification
Technology | Digital Radiography (DR) | December 28, 2017
December 28, 2017 — At the 2017 Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) Annual Meeting, Nov. 26-Dec.
FDA Issues Final Guidance on Pediatric X-ray Imaging Device Notifications
News | Pediatric Imaging | December 21, 2017
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a final guidance document entitled “Pediatric Information for X-...
Kubtec Supplies Imaging Equipment for Excavation of 3,500-Year-Old Greek Tomb
News | Digital Radiography (DR) | December 07, 2017
Kubtec announced it has been selected to supply high-resolution X-ray imaging equipment to the international research...
Canon Showcases New CXDI Digital Radiography Detectors at RSNA 2017
News | Digital Radiography (DR) | December 06, 2017
Canon U.S.A. Inc. and Virtual Imaging Inc. recently announced the launch of the CXDI-710C, CXDI-810C and CXDI-410C...
Fujifilm Introduces FDR Go Plus Version Portable DR System at RSNA 2017
Technology | Digital Radiography (DR) | November 28, 2017
November 28, 2017 — Fujifilm Medical Systems U.S.A. Inc.
Overlay Init