Of all the waves in the electromagnetic spectrum, x-rays are likely the most prominent in popular culture – most people, whether they’d like it or not, have had some sort of experience with x-rays, whether that’s because of an accident or hospital visit for themselves or a family member, or because they are an avid consumer of medical television shows and entertainment.
Waves on the electromagnetic spectrum have different qualities due to their varying energy levels, with low-energy, long wavelengths ideal for entertainment purposes such as broadcasting radio, and mid-frequency levels manifesting as the visible light that allows humans to see and navigate their way through the environment.
Frequencies that are at the higher end of energy levels, such as microwaves, x-rays and gamma rays have incredibly useful applications in areas such as science, technology and industry, but also require much more in terms of control mechanisms and keeping those interacting with them safe.
Read on to find out more about important applications of x-rays, from the well-known to the niche.
Broken Bone Diagnostics
The way that most people become familiar with x-rays is through their use in biomedical imaging, namely in broken bone diagnostics. X-rays can produce highly accurate and high-resolution images of our internal bone structure, without causing any significant damage to the sample in question.
For this reason, it is taken for granted that x-rays are able to produce these important medical diagnostics – how exactly do they produce the images that people are so familiar with?
Well, conveniently for both patients and medical professionals, the way x-ray radiation interacts with human bodies is different depending on the density of the material – so for most of the muscular, fatty tissues of the body, the x-rays pass straight through, but for bones, they leave radiation which can be detected using specialized equipment.
Another important application of x-rays is in security. As with biomedical imaging, it’s the fact that x-rays interact differently with particular materials that makes them ideal for imaging items that lay beyond an opaque barrier, such as a bag or suitcase.
Throughout the 21st century, it has become apparent that high-tech, reliable, and accurate security measures are required at places where large amounts of people gather, whether this is at a high-level sporting event, or at airport terminals before travelers board their flights.
X-rays lend themselves to detecting items and materials that are denser in nature, which makes them incredibly successful at detecting the materials used in nefarious items such as bombs, guns and other offensive weapons.
Another less well-known way that x-rays are applied successfully is in the field of quality control. In a world where consumer standards are higher than ever, and manufacturers are under more pressure than ever to get their products perfectly spot-on, x-rays offer a specialized, precision-based way of ensuring products are exactly as they should be.
For example, in the cosmetic manufacturing industry, x-ray diffraction is used to detect the size of particulates in the product down to the nanometer range – allowing manufacturers to establish whether the ‘feel’ of the product will be correct, as even these tiny differences can change a makeup product from smooth the coarse.