MiWord of the Day Is… X-Ray!

Yup! Want some of that. Not only is Superman cool but he has x-ray vision. Unbelievable. Or is it? Radiologists have the same x-ray vision but without the Spandex suit – or at least they don’t wear it to work that I am aware of.

The word of the day is x-ray. You have already successfully used “Roentgen” in casual conversation last week (don’t know what I am talking about? See Mi Word of the Day Is… Roentgen!) and today I will talk a little about what Roentgen was first in measuring and describing – x-rays.

Let’s say you are in your lab and you are working with passing electrical discharges through vacuum tubes – a typical Saturday afternoon activity with friends. As chance would have it your little sister’s barium salts paintings happen to be drying near-by and you notice a faint glow emanating from them every time you run your experiments. No matter how much you try to block any light coming from your vacuum tubes the glow persists. What? That’s odd. How’s that happening? Well my friend, you have just crossed over into the Twilight Zone (awesome old tv series) and discovered a form of electromagnetic radiation.

Visible light is but a very small part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Moving from visible light to longer wavelengths and lower frequencies we find infrared (keeps food warm at restaurants), microwaves (to warm your pizza pop) and radio (not the one streamed through the internet!). 

Now if you move in the opposite direction from visible light you find shorter wavelengths with higher frequencies starting with ultraviolet (what helps you get that summer tan), x-rays (word of the day), and finally gamma rays (topic for another day!). So x-rays are about the size of atoms and radio waves the size of buildings. Crazy. I think what is surprising is that with the naked eye we “see” so little and yet so much (philosophy anyone?).

So, x-rays are short wavelength, high frequency, high energy electromagnetic radiation that is able to penetrate some substances more easily than others. For example, they penetrate flesh more easily than bone, and bone more easily than lead. Thus they make it possible to see bones within flesh and a bullet embedded in bone. The ability of X rays to penetrate depends on their wavelength and on the density and thickness of the substance being scanned.



Now if you remember the rules:


1- I introduce and discuss a word.
2- You have to use the word in a sentence by the end of the day. No need to use it in the correct context – actually out of context is more fun and elicits a more entertaining response!
Today, we have to use “x-ray” in a sentence. Here are two examples to help you along:

Serious: Hey Frank, did you know the radiation you received during your chest x-ray last week was actually “soft” x-rays? Ones with shorter wavelengths and more penetrating power are used for scanning archaeological artifacts.

Less serious: Frank! Dude, I got them! My x-ray specs just came in the mail. Let’s go the beach…

See you in the blogosphere,

Pascal Tyrrell

A Crash Course in Medical Imaging

Oddly enough, there’s been a surprising lack of content about medical imaging on a blog with medical imaging in its title. So in order to fill that void, I’ll be providing a brief history on the development of the clinical technique used to visualize the human body.

The advent of medical imaging dates all the way back to 1895, following the discovery of X-rays by the German physicist, Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen. The first X-ray picture was then produced, detailing the skeletal composition of his wife’s left hand. However, the actual quality of this imaging process was still very primitive, only allowing for the visualization of bones or foreign objects.

    Much to Dr. Roentgen’s pleasure, Mrs. Roentgen
    had not discarded her wedding ring
    It was not until the 1920’s that radiologists would develop a more effective method of visualization. This process, known as fluoroscopy, involved either an oral or vascular injection of a radio-opaque contrast agent, which would travel through the patient’s gastrointestinal track. Radiologists could then take films tracking the agent, allowing them to view blood vessels and digestive tracks alike.

      By the 1950’s, imaging procedures progressed towards nuclear medicine, involving radioactive compounds. These compounds were administered to patients because they could be absorbed by cellular clusters being invaded by tumours. As compounds decayed and emitted gamma rays, the recorded radiation could then be detected by gamma cameras, signalling the location of any cancerous developments. 
          The 1970’s were a period of rapid advancement for the field, as a number of modern imaging techniques were developed for clinical practice such as: 

            • Ultrasound – Uses sound waves that are able to penetrate cellular tissue. Once they reflect off the body’s internal organs, the vibrations generate an electrical pulse which can then be reconstructed into an image. 
            • PET-CT Scan – Positron emission tomography (PET) uses compounds that emit positrons when they decay rather than gamma rays. It is now combined with a computed tomography (CT) device to generate a high-resolution image displaying sectioned layers of the scanned area. 
            • MRI – A Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanner runs a strong magnetic field through the body, aligning hydrogen protons. As the protons return to their original position in the atom, they generate radio waves, which are then picked up by the scanner and used to create an image based on signal strength. 

            Fast-forward to present day and over 70 million CT scans, 30 million MRI scans and 2 billion X-rays have been performed worldwide! The field of medical imaging is still growing by the day, with ongoing research leading to new developments.

              Thanks for reading,

                Brandon Teteruck