Strange Glow | Timothy J. Jorgensen

Summary of: Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation
By: Timothy J. Jorgensen


Embark on a captivating journey through the world of radiation with Timothy J. Jorgensen’s ‘Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation.’ The book explores the fascinating history, properties, and applications of radiation in a way that is both engaging and informative. Delve into the energy spectrum, the relationship between electricity and radiation, and notable discoveries that revolutionized our understanding of wavelengths. Uncover the potential wonders and perils of radiation, as well as its longstanding impact on society, through inspiring stories of pioneering scientists like Marconi, Roentgen, and the Curies.

The Mystical Importance of Light

Light is an essential part of human life, bringing joy and wonder through its refracted parts known as colors. From the longest radio waves to the shortest gamma rays, light travels through space in waves, carrying different levels of energy. While early electricity was dangerous, the discovery and transmission of radio waves brought newfound possibilities. Marconi saw the potential of using electromagnetic waves to transmit messages wirelessly, leading to the widespread use of radios. Branly’s discovery of electrical energy transmitting through empty space further proved the possibilities of radio communication. Despite the potential dangers of energy waves, the fear of radio waves never surfaced, and history proved Marconi’s successes right.

The Birth of Medical X-rays

On Christmas Day in 1895, German professor Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen made a revolutionary discovery – invisible rays could pass through solid objects. While experimenting with electricity, he noticed that a fluorescent screen on the other end of the room was emitting a strange glow. He coined these rays “x-rays” and discovered that they could penetrate wood but not metal. Roentgen’s wife was amazed when she saw his images of her hand’s bones. Roentgen immediately published his methods and sent out images that ensured every physician and scientist could reproduce his results. This led to the birth of medical x-rays, ultimately saving countless limbs and lives.

The Dangerous Experimentation with X-rays

The discovery of X-rays fascinated scientists and inventors alike, leading to dangerous experiments with the unknown waves. Thomas Edison, known for his ruthless innovation, quickly began trying X-ray experiments in his lab, leading to the tragic death of his assistant, Clarence Dally, from cancer caused by X-ray exposure. The use of X-rays showed that any wavelengths shorter than visible light carry so much energy that they are dangerous to human health. This includes Ultraviolet, X-rays, and Gamma rays, all of which can cause mutations and potentially even cell death. Edison’s experience with the harmful effects of radiation underscores the importance of caution in scientific experimentation.

The Discovery of Particle Radiation

The discovery of particle radiation happened concurrently with other scientific discoveries. Antoine Becquerel was interested in fluorescence and used photographic films coated with minerals to capture it. His experiments failed until he used Uranium, which exposed the films without light. This led to the discovery of a new type of ray, known as nuclear radiation. Large atoms like Uranium have so much positive charge that occasionally, particles fly out, causing the atoms to decay into another state. The particle carries energy, generating energy waves – ionising radiation. Nuclear radiation became a tool in Western medicine because it has the capacity to kill cells with higher wavelengths of particles.

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