Making the Invisible Visible: Röntgen's Mysterious X Rays

Brian S. Baigrie

Amateur scientists who traveled from town to town in the mid-nineteenth century delighted audiences by showing them the ancestor of the neon sign: the air was pumped out of a glass tube with platinum wires embedded in opposite ends, and the interior was made to glow in lively patterns when a high voltage was run across the wires. Transfixed by the fluorescence, the lecturers had however absolutely no idea what caused the electrical excitation in the vacuum tube.

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