Nov. 8, in addition to sometimes being the date of general elections in the United States and also the birthday of board gaming pioneer Milton Bradley, is World Radiography Day. Radiography, as you may or may not know, is the imaging technique by which projecting X-rays at an individual or object enables the creation of images that reveal that individual or object's internal structure.
Though it has many applications, radiography is familiar to most on account of its profound effect on various medical procedures and treatments. X-rays are so commonplace in the medical world that most people probably take them entirely for granted. Indeed, in the age or rapidly advancing technology that we live in, X-ray usage seems almost quaint, an idea that's been around so long it hardly seems possible that we haven't replaced it by now.
The basics of radiography were discovered in 1895 by German scientist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen. Famously, Röntgen was conducting experiments involving vacuum tubes and discovered a new form of electromagnetic radiation that he initially termed "X-rays" — using the mathematical notation "X" for unknown — by accident. On Nov. 8, 1895, he conducted his first direct experiments, and several days later created the first radiographic image: a picture of the bones in his wife's hand.
Röntgen's breakthrough, which resulted in his winning the inaugural Nobel Prize in Physics six years later, is often cited in support of exploratory scientific research, or research that is not directed toward an immediate practical application. Almost as noteworthy, however, is the fact that Röntgen declined to patent any aspect of his discovery, preferring instead that society as a whole benefit from future applications of his work.
That noble impulse is worth remembering in 2017, when technology is valued perhaps far more for its ability to make individuals filthy rich than for its ability to improve the human condition. Most people who take an interest in IT certification are looking to set forth or enhance a career in information technology. And in that regard we frequently discuss money (generally in terms of salary) as being perhaps the foremost reason to pursue IT studies.
We all want the sense of security, protection against the often random travails of life, that comes with a fat salary. And few individuals are likely to unlock a secret of the universe that holds a much potential as the X-ray. There's a lot to be said, however, for Röntgen's generous spirit, as well as his perhaps subconscious recognition of the hubris in claiming to "own" scientific knowledge.
So have a happy World Radiography Day. And wherever IT takes you in life, think about the benefit to humankind of the generations of research that have gone into creating and improving computers and computing. And remember, as Wilhelm Röntgen probably did, that all of us who benefit from the discoveries of those before us have a responsibility to ensure that such knowledge equally benefits everyone who comes along after we're gone.