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Wilhelm Conrad Röentgen (1845–1923), the discovery ofx rays and perinatal diagnosis
  1. Peter M Dunn
  1. Department of Child Health, University of Bristol, Southmead Hospital, Southmead, Bristol BS10 5NB, UK
  1. Professor Dunn email: p.m.dunn{at}

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Wilhelm Röentgen's serendipitous discovery ofx rays provided medicine and especially perinatal medicine with a powerful new investigative tool. Röentgen was born in the Rhineland town of Lennep on 27 March 1845. His German father Friedrich and Dutch mother Charlotte were cousins, coming from a well known family of merchants.1 When Wilhelm was three, the family moved to Apeldoorn in the Netherlands and, at the age of 16 he attended the Utrecht Technical School. Expelled because of a prank, he then entered the Polytechnic School in Zurich in 1865, where three years later he acquired a diploma in engineering. The following year, under the direction of A E E Kundt, he obtained a PhD for studies on the properties of gases. When Kundt moved to the University of Würzburg as professor of physics in 1870, Röengten accompanied him as his assistant, and likewise on to Strasbourg where he was appointed first privat-dozent, and then in 1876 associate professor in theoretical physics. In 1879 Röentgen was appointed professor of physics at Giessen, before moving back to a similar post in the University of Würzburg in 1888. Six years later he was elected to the highest office in the university, that of the rectorship.2

On 8 November 1895, Röentgen first observed the phenomenon that he named x rays. After three weeks of intensive study, assisted by his wife, he communicated his findings to the Physics-Medical Society of Würzburg in December. Within days his discovery had become a worldwide sensation as the following account from the Vienna Presse reveals. It was published in the Manchester Guardian in early January 1896:

“A Photographic Discovery: From our own correspondent: Vienna. Monday night. A very important scientific discovery has recently been made by Professor Röentgen of Würzburg University, the …

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