November 8, 1895, proved to be an exceptionally important date, as on that day a professor of physics at the University of Würzburg made a discovery that opened the door to the field of diagnostic radiology. In his lab at that time, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered a new kind of ray that was capable of passing through solid objects and revealing bone structures. After the first human radiograph, of his wife's hand, Röntgen's xrays went on to revolutionize medicine and surgery.
As detailed by the excellent articles in this issue of Pediatric Annals, diagnostic radiologic modalities have expanded and evolved to include ultrasonography, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and other techniques in addition to plain x-ray radiology (rontgenology). Readers of this issue will learn about the relative risks and the degrees of radiation exposure associated with various imaging modalities as well as updates on the relative values of these modalities in specific clinical circumstances.
As I reflect upon the changes that have occurred in medicine during my career in clinical pediatrics over the past more than 3 decades, I often focus upon our routine reliance upon the astonishing capability of modern diagnostic radiology to solve clinical mysteries. The child with fever and no focal findings whose head and neck CT scan yields evidence of an unsuspected retropharyngeal abscess or whose abdominal ultrasound reveals an unsuspected lesion makes me think back a few decades to ask myself how we would have managed without the critical information that we routinely receive from radiologic studies. As I write this, I'm awaiting the results of an abdominal MRI scan in a very ill 2-year-old with polycystic kidney disease, massive hepatosplenomegaly, ascites, and high fever.
Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen (1845-1922) was born in Lennep in the Rhineland, son of a German farmer and his Dutch wife. He was educated at Utrecht in Holland and became professor of physics at Strasbourg in 1876, Giessen in 1879, Würzburg in 1895, and then Munich in 1899. Röntgen was awarded the first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901 for his discovery of x-rays but shunned publicity. He gave only a single formal lecture on his discovery, presenting the details in a preliminary written communication to the Würzburg PhysicalMedical Society on December 28, 1895, and verbally shortly thereafter. The first clinical radiograph in tus of the kind in Röntgen's lab that enabled projection of the image upon a film that could be developed. The three very colorful stamps are all from the United Kingdom and show MR1 (of the head), ultrasonography (of the fetus), and computed tomography (of the chest).
the United States was produced at Dartmouth on February 3, 1896, as news of Röntgen's discovery swept around the world. An 1896 article in Pediatrics included early pediatric radiographs of hand abnormalities in Down syndrome.
Many countries have issued postage stamps honoring Röntgen, most to celebrate the centenary of his discovery of xrays. Here I have selected five illustrative stamps. The yellow and black Czech Republic stamp shows an early tube emitting xrays, while the Italian stamp portrays a very early x-ray apparatus of the kind in Röntgen's lab that enabled projection of the image upon a film that could be developed. The three very colorful stamps are all from the United Kingdom and show MRl (of the head), ultrasonography (of the fetus), and computed tomography (of the chest).