Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen was born on March 27, 1845 in Lennep, Germany to Friedrich and Charlotte Constance Roentgen. When he was three Wilhelm and his family moved to Apeldoorn, Nederland. His father owned a thriving cloth business so he was pretty well off. He lived right next to the Kostschool of Martinus Hermanus van Doorn, a boarding school with around eighty students, which he attended. He was expected after he graduated to go into his father’s business and eventually inherit it. At sixteen, he finished van Doorn’s school.
His parents thought he was too young to start working, and he had a strong desire to learn, so a few years later, he ended up at the University of Utrecht. There was one problem though, the family he was supposed to stay with had to move. So Professor Gunning (the father in the family) got him enrolled at the Athenaeum in Amsterdam, which meant Wilhelm had to part with the Gunnings. That forced Wilhelm to bunk with another student going to his college, because back then they didn’t have dormitories for students.
On March 17, 1865 a fraternity called “Placet hic requiescere Musis” (May the Muses rest here) selected him as a member of their fraternity. Then on May 9 he joined a scientific society called “Natura Dux nobis et auspex” (Nature is our leader and protector). Wilhelm didn’t like keeping house so, he found a room with the family of a cabinetmaker. There he started writing his first book, called “Question for the Inorganic Part of the Chemistry Textbook”, under the pen name of Dr J. W. Gunning. As you probably figured out that was the name of the man he had lived with in the past.
People tried to find the real author but all they could find were the initials W. C. R. Wilhelm would later go to school in another college called Swiss Federal Technical School in Zurich, Switzerland. He was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy on June 22, 1869. While he was attending the Swiss Federal Technical School, he met the beautiful Anna Bertha Ludwig at the Zum Grunen Glas, a cafe owned by her father. Wilhelm married Bertha on June 19, 1872 and they would later adopt a daughter. After he received his Doctor of Philosophy, he went back to the Zum Grunen Glas, where he knew he would be congratulated by some of his friends.
There, he met one of his old professors, Professor Kundt, who suggested he should work in the field of physics. Three years later, Wilhelm found himself a job at the Agricultural College in Hohenmeim, Germany as a professor of physics and mathematics. It was a small college where his physics laboratory had only one room. After a year, Professor Roentgen received a call from his old friend Professor Kundt, he said they needed a second chair for physics and on October 1, 1876, the Roentgens moved to Strassburg, Germany. He would stay there for three years.
On April 1, 1879, four days after his thirty-fourth birthday, Roentgen received word that the University of Giessen in Germany was looking for a new professor of physics. The old one had died the previous Christmas and they needed a professor to “tackle more basic problems. ” He was recommended by three professors who were considered greats. One of them was his old friend August Kundt. For the first time, he was going to be a full professor. Professor Roentgen would teach there for nine years, until 1888, when he went on to become a professor at the University of Wurzburg in Wurzburg, Germany.
By the time Professor Roentgen went to Wurzburg, he was labeled a great scientist and was well respected. Many felt that he was the “great German professor of the Victorian Age. ” When he moved, he brought his assistant, Ludwig Zehnder with him from Giessen to Wurzburg, just like Professor Kundt did with him. Roentgen has always been an efficient worker. Between the year 1889 to 1895 he published seventeen scientific papers, with only one of these with a co-author (his assistant Ludwig Zehnder).
Because of his very hard work, Wilhelm was elected Rector (or president in today’s terms) for the years of 1894 and 1895. Then, in 1894 someone close to Roentgen passed away. That person was his very old and dear friend Professor August Kundt. At the time, he was professor of physics at the world renounced University of Berlin. Roentgen was forever in debt to him because twenty-five years earlier he helped erect his career. He died at his home in Lubeck, Germany. Early in the summer of 1894, Roentgen began experimenting with cathode radiation with a Crooke’s (cathode-ray discharge) tube.
A Crooke’s tube (named after a British scientist named Sir William Crookes) is a glass bulb with positive (or anode) and negative (or cathode) electrodes, which can have air or other gases pumped in or taken away, that glows a bright color when a high voltage current passes through it. However, he couldn’t really devote himself to these experiments, because he was still President of the University. On the evening of November 8, 1895, Professor Roentgen was experimenting with his Crooke’s tube at the Physical Institute of the University of Wurzburg on the Pleicher Ring (which is know known as the Roentgenring).
He activated his cathode-ray tube and covered each end of the tube with thin black cardboard, leaving a small part of the glass uncovered, and placed a screen of fluorescent substance near the uncovered place. His objective was to see if cathode rays passed through glass. He found that there was no fluorescence on the walls of the tube. He did, however, notice a weird green glow coming from an object three feet away. Thinking he messed up, he checked for stray light coming from the glass walls; and found nothing. He turned on the cathode-ray tube again, and it appeared again, in the exact same place.
Right then he knew he found something unusual. He knew cathode rays could only travel a few inches in air. Then he realized it was coming from a screen on the tube of fluorescent chemical. For the next six weeks, Roentgen (44 years old at the time) practically never left his laboratory. He even slept there, trying to figure out this strange phenomenon. He concluded he had discovered a new type of radiation, which he called X-rays. He called them this because he didn’t know what they were. These rays even could travel through a thousand page book, wood, rubber, and tin foil!
Professor Roentgen then got an idea. he placed his hand near this ray. He then observed “If the hand is held between the discharge tube and the screen, the darker shadow of the bones is seen within the slightly dark shadow image of the hand itself”. This marked the first time anyone had seen the bones of a living human being with the bone actually in them. Then on Friday, November 8, 1895, he took the first X-ray photograph. It was of his Bertha’s hand while she had a ring on. In late December 1895, Roentgen Published another paper, his 49th paper, called A New Kind of Rays, by Dr.
W. Roentgen, Professor at the Royal University of Wurzburg. On Saturday, December 28, 1895, Roentgen first submitted the paper to the Wurzburg Phisico Medical Society about his discovery. On January 1, 1896, Roentgen sent these papers to various physics professors all over Europe, but most importantly he sent them reprints of the know famous X-ray photograph. On Thursday, January 23, 1896, he gave his first presentation before the Wurzburg Phisico Medical Society , as Roentgen was quoted as saying to his wife, “Now hell will break loose! ” Of course, it did.
When the public and media first found out about Roentgen rays, or X-rays, they freaked. A London lingerie company started advertising X-ray proof underwear. In New Jersey, a politician proposed a bill to ban X-rays in opera glasses. The biggest fear was that X-rays might go through the walls of houses and that nobody would have privacy anymore. People started seeing the good in these rays when for the first time, a New Hampshire hospital diagnosed a bone fracture. In Dartmouth Massachusetts, Edwin Brant Frost produced a plate of a fracture in a man named Eddie McCarthy and gave it to his brother, Dr.
Gilman Dubois Frost. Obviously, Professor Roentgen became a very famous, and busy man. Dr. Roentgen refused to patent his discovery and wouldn’t take any commercial offers relating to them. He did accept most of his honors, though. Here are some of the honors he received: fifteen medals (including two US awards); three honorary degrees including an honorary M. D. from Wurzburg; four prizes; and seven plaques. Now, because of his fame, Mr. Roentgen was offered a job teaching physics at one of Germany’s most prestigious universities, in Munich.
He took the job and left Wurzburg, the birthplace of his amazing discovery and the place he had taught at for over ten years. He was professor at Munich for only one year. Before that he had received an offer from the University of Leipzig, which he declined. In 1901, A Swedish millionaire named Alfred Nobel started an annual award of a plaque and some money in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and contributions to world peace (which was added later). These award assemblies were held in Stockholm, Sweden in the month of December.
The awards were to be handed out by the King of Sweden. When Roentgen got word he won the prize in the field of physics he thought it was a great honor, and felt he should receive this in person. In order to get there, Roentgen had to cross the treacherous Baltic Sea, in December, on a small ferryboat. It got tossed around so much he became seasick. He wanted to rest after he crossed the sea, but he thought well, it is just a train ride the rest of the way to Stockholm so he went on. He arrived in Stockholm on December 9. The awards assemblies took place at seven o’clock the next evening.
The event was held at the Big Hall of the Musikaliska Akademien (the Music Academy). Along with Roentgen, Chemist J. H. van’t Hoff of Berlin, Germany won a prize for his work on osmosis, Professor of Medicine Dr. E. A. von Bering also of Germany, won a prize for making a serum for diphtheria, and a poet from France named R. F. A. Sully-Prudhomme, received the prize for literature, even though he wasn’t present. Every man was given a gold medal, a diploma, and 50,000 Swedish kronor. King Oscar II did not hand out these awards, but Crown Prince Gustav presented these awards in his absence.
After Roentgen received the Nobel Prize, many people started claiming they had seen these rays first. Others said that he took all the credit from his assistant and that Zehnder actually made the X-ray discovery. Roentgen became so angry that he withdrew from public life. By then Roentgen was old, and he started to struggle with his health. In 1910, he collapsed as he came out of a meeting. In 1912, he suffered from an ear inflammation and a severe bronchtilious inflammation. In May 1913 Roentgen had to have an ear operation. He would regain his health in later years but his wife, Bertha would not.
Wilhelm and Bertha found out that she had kidney stones, wich were causing her a great deal of pain. Then, in the year of 1919, Bertha had a severe bronchitis attack that made her heart weak. On October 31, 1919, Bertha died at eighty years of age. That was around the same time the Germans surrendered to France unconditionally to end World War I (which I got out of my own knowledge). Approximately three and a half years later, Whilhelm Conrad Roentgen died on February 10, 1923 from carcinoma of the rectum. He was buried beside his wife at the family plot in Giessen.