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[link] shows a diffraction pattern produced by the scattering of x rays from a crystal. This process is known as x-ray crystallography because of the information it can yield about crystal structure, and it was the type of data Rosalind Franklin supplied to Watson and Crick for DNA. Not only do x rays confirm the size and shape of atoms, they give information on the atomic arrangements in materials. For example, current research in high-temperature superconductors involves complex materials whose lattice arrangements are crucial to obtaining a superconducting material. These can be studied using x-ray crystallography.

An x ray diffraction image, which resembles a structured array of small black dots on a white background. A white arm extends from the top left to the center of the image, where there is a small white disk. This white disk is the shadow of the beam block, which blocks the part of the incident x ray beam that was not diffracted by the crystal.
X-ray diffraction from the crystal of a protein, hen egg lysozyme, produced this interference pattern. Analysis of the pattern yields information about the structure of the protein. (credit: Del45, Wikimedia Commons)

Historically, the scattering of x rays from crystals was used to prove that x rays are energetic EM waves. This was suspected from the time of the discovery of x rays in 1895, but it was not until 1912 that the German Max von Laue (1879–1960) convinced two of his colleagues to scatter x rays from crystals. If a diffraction pattern is obtained, he reasoned, then the x rays must be waves, and their wavelength could be determined. (The spacing of atoms in various crystals was reasonably well known at the time, based on good values for Avogadro’s number.) The experiments were convincing, and the 1914 Nobel Prize in Physics was given to von Laue for his suggestion leading to the proof that x rays are EM waves. In 1915, the unique father-and-son team of Sir William Henry Bragg and his son Sir William Lawrence Bragg were awarded a joint Nobel Prize for inventing the x-ray spectrometer and the then-new science of x-ray analysis. The elder Bragg had migrated to Australia from England just after graduating in mathematics. He learned physics and chemistry during his career at the University of Adelaide. The younger Bragg was born in Adelaide but went back to the Cavendish Laboratories in England to a career in x-ray and neutron crystallography; he provided support for Watson, Crick, and Wilkins for their work on unraveling the mysteries of DNA and to Max Perutz for his 1962 Nobel Prize-winning work on the structure of hemoglobin. Here again, we witness the enabling nature of physics—establishing instruments and designing experiments as well as solving mysteries in the biomedical sciences.

Certain other uses for x rays will be studied in later chapters. X rays are useful in the treatment of cancer because of the inhibiting effect they have on cell reproduction. X rays observed coming from outer space are useful in determining the nature of their sources, such as neutron stars and possibly black holes. Created in nuclear bomb explosions, x rays can also be used to detect clandestine atmospheric tests of these weapons. X rays can cause excitations of atoms, which then fluoresce (emitting characteristic EM radiation), making x-ray-induced fluorescence a valuable analytical tool in a range of fields from art to archaeology.

Section summary

  • X rays are relatively high-frequency EM radiation. They are produced by transitions between inner-shell electron levels, which produce x rays characteristic of the atomic element, or by accelerating electrons.
  • X rays have many uses, including medical diagnostics and x-ray diffraction.

Conceptual questions

Explain why characteristic x rays are the most energetic in the EM emission spectrum of a given element.

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Why does the energy of characteristic x rays become increasingly greater for heavier atoms?

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Observers at a safe distance from an atmospheric test of a nuclear bomb feel its heat but receive none of its copious x rays. Why is air opaque to x rays but transparent to infrared?

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Lasers are used to burn and read CDs. Explain why a laser that emits blue light would be capable of burning and reading more information than one that emits infrared.

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Crystal lattices can be examined with x rays but not UV. Why?

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CT scanners do not detect details smaller than about 0.5 mm. Is this limitation due to the wavelength of x rays? Explain.

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Problem exercises

(a) What is the shortest-wavelength x-ray radiation that can be generated in an x-ray tube with an applied voltage of 50.0 kV? (b) Calculate the photon energy in eV. (c) Explain the relationship of the photon energy to the applied voltage.

(a) 0.248 × 10 −10 m

(b) 50.0 keV

(c) The photon energy is simply the applied voltage times the electron charge, so the value of the voltage in volts is the same as the value of the energy in electron volts.

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A color television tube also generates some x rays when its electron beam strikes the screen. What is the shortest wavelength of these x rays, if a 30.0-kV potential is used to accelerate the electrons? (Note that TVs have shielding to prevent these x rays from exposing viewers.)

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An x ray tube has an applied voltage of 100 kV. (a) What is the most energetic x-ray photon it can produce? Express your answer in electron volts and joules. (b) Find the wavelength of such an X–ray.

(a) 100 × 10 3 eV size 12{"100" times "10" rSup { size 8{3} } " eV"} {} , 1 . 60 × 10 14 J size 12{1 "." "60" times "10" rSup { size 8{ - "14"} } `J} {}

(b) 0.124 × 10 10 m size 12{1 "." "24" times "10" rSup { size 8{ - "11"} } " m"} {}

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The maximum characteristic x-ray photon energy comes from the capture of a free electron into a K size 12{K} {} shell vacancy. What is this photon energy in keV for tungsten, assuming the free electron has no initial kinetic energy?

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What are the approximate energies of the K α size 12{K rSub { size 8{α} } } {} and K β size 12{K rSub { size 8{β} } } {} x rays for copper?

(a) 8.00 keV

(b) 9.48 keV

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Questions & Answers

What is the difference between a principle and a law
the law is universally proved. The principal depends on certain conditions.
state Faraday first law
aliyu Reply
it states that mass of an element deposited during electrolysis is directly proportional to the quantity of electricity discharge
what does the speedometer of a car measure ?
Jyoti Reply
Car speedometer measures the rate of change of distance per unit time.
describe how a Michelson interferometer can be used to measure the index of refraction of a gas (including air)
using the law of reflection explain how powder takes the shine off a person's nose. what is the name of the optical effect?
is higher resolution of microscope using red or blue light?.explain
what is dimensional consistent
In engineering and science, dimensional analysis is the analysis of the relationships between different physical quantities by identifying their base quantities and units of measure and tracking these dimensions as calculations or comparisons are performed
can sound wave in air be polarized?
Unlike transverse waves such as electromagnetic waves, longitudinal waves such as sound waves cannot be polarized. ... Since sound waves vibrate along their direction of propagation, they cannot be polarized
A proton moves at 7.50×107m/s perpendicular to a magnetic field. The field causes the proton to travel in a circular path of radius 0.800 m. What is the field strength?
Celedonio Reply
derived dimenionsal formula
Ajak Reply
what is the difference between mass and weight
Isru Reply
assume that a boy was born when his father was eighteen years.if the boy is thirteen years old now, how is his father in
what is head-on collision
Javaid Reply
what is airflow
Godswill Reply
derivative of first differential equation
Haruna Reply
why static friction is greater than Kinetic friction
Ali Reply
draw magnetic field pattern for two wire carrying current in the same direction
Ven Reply
An American traveler in New Zealand carries a transformer to convert New Zealand’s standard 240 V to 120 V so that she can use some small appliances on her trip.
nkombo Reply
What is the ratio of turns in the primary and secondary coils of her transformer?
what is energy
How electric lines and equipotential surface are mutually perpendicular?
Abid Reply
The potential difference between any two points on the surface is zero that implies È.Ŕ=0, Where R is the distance between two different points &E= Electric field intensity. From which we have cos þ =0, where þ is the angle between the directions of field and distance line, as E andR are zero. Thus
sorry..E and R are non zero...
Practice Key Terms 2

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Source:  OpenStax, College physics. OpenStax CNX. Jul 27, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11406/1.9
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