Think about X-rays – that mysterious, radioactive light that can see through objects. There are many surprising x-ray uses, but the first that likely comes to mind is for medical X-rays, right? And then maybe airport checkpoints using X-rays for security scans. In today’s world, those are the two uses people can most often cite.

But there is wider range of uses (both safe and unsafe) people have tried since the discovery of X-rays in 1895. This radioactive light was great for personal hygiene, until it started producing painful side effects. And today’s enlightened scientists use X-rays in places besides hospitals. Read on to learn more about these surprising X-ray uses.

For Scientific Discovery

Wilhelm Roentgen’s 1895 discovery demonstrated how X-rays would revolutionize medical imaging. Over time, scientists also realized these beams excelled at studying the world around us. They now use X-rays to study cellular structures and the world’s tiniest organisms. X-rays’ small wavelengths can visualize the tiniest of objects and help scientists better study microscopic worlds.

X-rays are also used to study historic artwork and priceless artifacts. The beams allow for detailed analysis of the objects without disturbing or ruining them. Scholars can view the underpinnings from famous works of art to better understand how artists developed their masterpieces. And archaeologists can study objects thousands and even millions of years old. They use X-rays to peer into ancient mummies without damaging the time-worn bodies.

Scientists also blast instruments into space to study cosmic X-rays bombarding Earth. Our atmosphere protects us from these rays’ harmful effects but also prevents Earth-bound scientists from observing them. These scientists deploy X-ray instruments into space to observe these cosmic rays and try to better understand our place in the universe.

Cosmic X-rays

For Daily Convenience

It sounds dangerous now, but people once thought X-rays were the ideal tool for modern twentieth century life. In the 1920’s X-rays helped remove unwanted hair. The beams were the perfect personal hygiene item – that is until the side effects kicked in. Pain, burns, and cancers were just some issues consumers experienced. Hairy individuals wanting a suitable replacement had to wait until laser hair removal’s later development.

Other more surprising X-ray uses involved shoe shopping. Early twentieth century shoe stores installed shoe-fitting fluoroscopes to help customers find their perfect fit. Just like with hair removal though, X-ray shoe fitting was short lived once customers developed burns and cancers.

Foot X-ray

For Personal Entertainment

Few parents today would subject their children to unnecessary medical X-ray exposure. But parents 100 years ago thought X-rays made for great entertainment. Carnivals set up displays allowing people to see inside the human body. And well-to-do parents even rented X-ray machines for birthday parties. While an X-ray would make a great souvenir, it is hard to picture today’s parents being on board with this.

As you can see, X-rays are not limited to medical and security uses. Rightly (for science) or wrongly (for hair removal) the last 100 years have seen many surprising X-ray uses. Today we understand radiation safety and  know how to use the X-ray energy in safer ways. It is amazing to see how far X-rays and come, and excited to wonder where they will take us in the future!