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Report by Dr Arpan K Banerjee
Chair British Society for the History of Radiology
November 8 1895 was the day when Rontgen a relatively unknown Physics Professor
at Wurzburg ,Germany conducted his epoch making experiment in his laboratory late
on a Friday evening . The rest of the story has now become etched in medical history.
Today it is difficult to imagine modern hospitals without radiology departments.
None of this would have been possible without his discovery of X-
On Nov 8 2015 a celebratory event to mark the 120th anniversary of the discovery
was held in the lecture hall of the Institute of Anatomy Wurzburg. It is here that
the distinguished Professor of Anatomy , Albert Von Kolliker worked and discovered
mitochondria and subsequently became a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and
Copley Medallist. It was his hand that was X-
The weekend of celebratory events in Wurzburg included a scientific meeting of the
International Society of the History of Radiology celebrating Rontgen’s discovery
held in the Rontgen memorial building on the Rontgenring road. This building luckily
escaped the Allied bombing of Wurzburg which destroyed 90% of the city in 1945.
This building consists of Rontgen’s original laboratories and an exhibition space
and is now part of the new University of applied sciences, Wurzburg and displays
material relating to Rontgen’s life and provides an insight into the turn of the
twentieth century physics. The tour of the famous laboratories was one of the highlights
of the weekend. It was in this very room that X-
A range of lectures were presented on a variety of topics including the development of radiology in Wurzburg, Rontgen’s birthplace in Remscheid and an interesting presentation by S Popp on the Rontgen memorial site itself. The memorial site consists of the laboratories Rontgen used at the University of Wurzburg and is now under the care of the newer University of Applied Sciences Wurzburg Scheinfurt. The road on which this building stands was renamed the Rontgenring in 1909 in Rontgen’s honour. In the afternoon a variety of talks were presented on topics ranging from Hounsfield, the Braggs, early uroradiology to shoe fluoroscopy. The meeting was organised by the International Society for the History of Radiology, Roentgen Memorial site and the German Roentgen Society.
Wurzburg is also home to the famous Juliushospital founded in 1576 and an accompanying winery the profits which have enabled the hospital to flourish throughout the years. In the early nineteenth century this hospital had one of the world’s most advanced operating theatres.
Wurzburg University is one of Germany’s oldest universities and boasts 14 Nobel Laureates
including Rontgen and Fischer, Nernst and Max von Laue the discoverer of x-
The city honoured its famous son with a front page article in the local paper and celebrations were held on the evening of Nov 8 to which delegates and local dignitaries were invited.
The weekend was a truly humbling, informative and inspiring experience for the members of the British Society for the History of Radiology who were lucky enough to attend.
First published Dec 2015 Rad Magazine UK
Report by Dr Arpan K Banerjee Chair British Society for the History of Radiology
The venue of this year’s British Society for the History of Radiology annual guest lecture on the 22 Feb 2016 was again the magnificient Governor’s Hall at St Thomas’s Hospital, London. Over 100 attendees were priviledged to hear a masterly exposition by the distinguished science historian and author from Oxford University Dr Allan Chapman on the contributions of Marie Curie and Roentgen to modern diagnostic and therapeutic radiology set in the context of the advances in the nineteenth century science which made all of this possible.
In the eighteenth century radiation and invisible forces were everywhere. A general fascination with invisible forces was present in society with light waves , magnetism and electricity the subjects of enquiry and study by all and sundry including quacks who were respected physicians often interested in these unusual fields of scientific enquiry ( only recently in the twentieth century did the quack become a pejorative term for alternative practitioners) . Mesmer , the Viennese physician tried treating patients with magnetism which was parodied in his time by Mozart. The contributions of James Clark Maxwell to electromagnetism and work by the polymath Thomas Young who coined the term energy and other pioneering scientists of the nineteenth century paved the way for Roentgen’s great discovery in 1895.
This set off further great advances in physics including Becquerel’s discovery of radioactivity from his studies on uranium and in 1899 J J Thompson’s discovery of the electron. Marie Curie met Becquerel in Paris and worked on pitchblende. In 1898 she isolated Polonium (named after her native country Poland) and radium. She was the recipient of 2 Nobel Prizes one in Physics and the other in Chemistry. Her husband Pierre was also a distinguished experimenter receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics with Marie Curie in 1903 for their work on radioactivity. He was unfortunately killed in an accident in 1906. Marie Curie became the first female Professor in the University of Paris and in 1911 won her Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In the first world war she procured xray equipment and trucks for her mobile radiography units for field hospitals. In the early days radium found itself being used for a wide range of purposes not necessarily medicinal. It was the French radiologist from the Curie Institute who in 1922 demonstrated that throat cancer could be treated with Xray treatment and went on to describe fractionated radiotherapy which became routine treatment in the 1930’s .
Dr Chapman’s address was a masterly exposition with some interesting illustrations and had the audience captivated by his erudition. All who attended remarked what an interesting and informative evening the lecture had been.
First published in April 2016 Rad Magazine.
The Hirtz Compass -
Edith and Florence Stoney: X-
Below: The Hirtz Compass
The 29th International Congress of Radiology will be held in Argentina 21-
A new book... Radium and the Secret of Life by Luis Campos, University of Chicago Press, 2015.
The BSHM Poynter lecture will take place on 12th October at the Wellcome Collection Conference Centre Euston Road, London and promises to be a wonderful lecture by Dr Sam Alberti on “Finding Patients in the Medical Museum”
Dr Arpan Banerjee (left) with Dr Allan Chapman