ONE HUNDRED YEARS ago, on November 8, working in his rather spartan laboratory in Würzburg, Germany, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (1845-1923) saw something just a few others had seen—but only he realized it was something new. Something astonishingly new.
He noticed a glow coming from a phosphorescent screen not far from the cathode ray gas discharge tube he was using in one of his experiments. He traced the source of the invisible rays to the point where the cathode rays were striking the glass wall of the discharge tube. To his astonishment, the rays, unlike visible or ultraviolet light, readily penetrated many opaque objects—including the flesh of his hand, revealing an uncanny shadowy image of his bones. Unlike cathode rays, the mysterious new rays would not be bent by either magnetic or electric fields. Röntgen had discovered x-rays—and begun the transition from classical to modern physics.
That discovery was the beginning