The origin of X-ray scintillators
In 1895, Wilhelm Röntgen was experimenting with vacuum tube in his lab at the university of Würtzberg, Germany, when he discovered an“invisible light” that he later called X-rays.
During his experiments, he noticed a faint glow from a fluorescent screen about a meter away from the vacuum tube. Röntgen had covered the vacuum tube with black cardboard to block all the visible light emitted from the apparatus and did not expect the fluorescent screen to glow, which required exposure to light.
He did several experiments and realized the mysterious X-rays emitted by his vacuum tube could pass through soft objects but not dense objects. In one of his experiments, he used a photographic film to convert the x-rays into a form observable by the human eye and made the first x-ray image which showed the bone of his wife’s hand and her wedding ring. Upon which, his astonished wife uttered: I have seen my death!
First medical X-ray using no scintillator
Silver halide-based photographic films efficiently absorb visible light but are intrinsically inefficient in absorbing X-rays. One or more hours of X-ray exposure were required for dense body parts such as the chest, head, or abdomen, with the X-ray tube placed directly on the exposed area. Therefore, a search began for efficient materials to convert X-rays to visible light, which in turn could be captured by a photographic film. These efficient materials that absorb X-rays and convert them to visible light are called scintillators.
In 1896, only one year after Röntgen’s original discovery, Michael Pupin introduced CaWO4 powder as the first material to convert X-rays and shorten the time required to record an image using photographic film. A ZnS-based scintillator was introduced by Crookes and Regener a few years after. Nowadays, more than 80% of all X-ray detectors contain a scintillator. In modern X-ray detectors use digital photodetectors instead of photographic films to convert the light from a scintillator to an image.
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