Present State of Radiography

In many ways, radiography has changed little from the early days of its use. We still capture a shadow image of the sample with a detector opposite the x-ray source. Film is sometimes still used with procedures and processes technicians were using in the late 1800's. Today, however, we are able to generate images of higher quality and greater sensitivity through the use of higher quality films with a larger variety of film grain sizes. And, more recently, digital array detectors have largely replaced film in many industries.

Film processing has evolved to an automated state, producing more consistent film quality by removing manual processing variables. Electronics and computers allow technicians to now capture images digitally. The use of "filmless radiography" provides a means of capturing an image, digitally enhancing, sending the image anywhere in the world, and archiving an image that will not deteriorate with time. Technological advances have provided industry with smaller, lighter, and very portable equipment that produce high quality X-rays. The use of linear accelerators provide a means of generating extremely short wavelength, highly penetrating radiation, a concept only dreamed of a few short years ago.

While the process has changed little, technology has evolved allowing radiography to be widely used in numerous areas of inspection.  Radiography has seen expanded usage in industry to inspect not only welds and castings, but to radiographically inspect items such as airbags and canned food products. Radiography has found use in metallurgical material identification and security systems at airports and other facilities.

Gamma ray inspection has also changed considerably since the Curies' discovery of radium. Man-made isotopes of today are far stronger and offer the technician a wide range of energy levels and half-lives. The technician can select Co-60 which will effectively penetrate very thick materials, or select a lower energy isotope, such as Tm-170, which can be used to inspect plastics and very thin or low density materials. Today gamma rays find wide application in industries such as petrochemical, casting, welding, and aerospace.

Addressing Health Concerns

It was in the Manhattan District of US Army Corps of Engineers that the name "health physics" was born, and great advances were made in radiation safety. From the onset, the leaders of the Manhattan District recognized that a new and intense source of radiation and radioactivity would be created. In the summer of 1942, the leaders asked Ernest O. Wollan, a cosmic ray physicist at the University of Chicago, to form a group to study and control radiation hazards. Thus, Wollan was the first to bear the title of health physicist. He was soon joined by Carl G. Gamertsfelder, recently graduated physics baccalaureate, and Herbert M. Parker, the noted British-American medical physicist. By mid 1943, six others had been added. These six include Karl Z. Morgan, James C. Hart, Robert R. Coveyou, O.G. Landsverk, L.A. Pardue, and John E. Rose.

Within the Manhattan District, the name "health physicist" seems to have been derived in part from the need for secrecy (and hence a code name for radiation protection activities) and the fact that it was a group of mostly physicists working on health related problems. Activities included developing appropriate monitoring instruments, physical controls, administrative procedures, monitoring radiation areas, personnel monitoring, and radioactive waste disposal. It was in the Manhattan District that many of the modern concepts of protection were born, including the rem unit, which took into account the biological effectiveness of the radiation. It was in the Manhattan District that radiation protection concepts realized maturity and enforceability.