It’s been nearly 120 years since Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen’s initiative spurred a revolution, and his thoughts at the moment of discovery of the X-ray still inspire today: “I didn’t think. I investigated.”
Roentgen was awarded the first Nobel Prize in physics in 1901, but according to a recent article in Time.com, his decision to be late for dinner to investigate his discovery heralded a momentous event for science and medicine.
Life lessons gleaned from the legendary physics professor:
1. Fifty is fabulous. Roentgen’s significant contribution surely benefited from his half century of wisdom and persistence.
2. Procrastination is for losers. “Chance favors those prepared to see and Roentgen was superbly prepared,” noted Howard H. Seliger in a Physics Today retrospective. To test his observations, Roentgen plunged into “seven weeks of meticulous planned and executed experiments,” according to the American Physical Society.
3. Dark days will not defeat you. Roentgen was expelled from the Utrecht Technical School in Holland for a prank committed by another student, according to the American Physical Society. His lack of a diploma initially stood in the way of him earning a position at the University of Würzburg (even after he received his doctorate), although he eventually was accepted.
4. Beards were cool before hipsters decreed it. Enough said.
5. Behind ever good inventor is someone willing to lend a hand. In Roentgen’s case, his wife Bertha put her fears aside as a subject in early experiments. One of the earliest photographic plates was a film of her left hand with a ring, produced on Friday, November 8, 1895.
6. Everyone wants in on a good idea; proceed with caution. Within a year of Roentgen’s announcement of his discovery, the application of X-rays was an established part of the medical profession, according to the American Physical Society. Experimentalists such as Emil Grubbe began using the rays in the treatment of disease. Less altruistic efforts to apply the principles also emerged: detectives hyped the use of Roentgen devices in following unfaithful spouses, and lead underwear was manufactured to foil attempts at peeking with “X-ray glasses.”