X-rays & Matter

How can we visualize materials with x-rays? What can we see? How do x-rays interact with matter? What is matter?

Light is energy that travels like a particle and a wave! X-rays are the name for a certain energy range of light.

The energy and the wavelength of the light are related to one another, and the electromagnetic spectrum is composed of many energies (or wavelengths) of light: radio waves, microwaves, visible light, ultraviolet light, x-rays, gamma rays, etc.

Unlike visible light (what your eyes can see) that bounces off many surfaces, x-ray light penetrates into most materials.

Ever get an x-ray taken at the doctor? X-rays can go through your body, getting absorbed by the calcium in your bones. The contrast between the energy absorbed in your bones and in the rest of your flesh creates the pictures x-ray technicians uses to assess your bones.

Caution! In research, we often refer to x-ray experiments as being nondestructive to materials. However, the absorbed energy from x-rays can cause damage to proteins: a major component of biological systems like your body! All x-ray labs (research and medical) require special shielding and monitoring to limit exposure levels people in the space to x-ray radiation.