X-rays are produced when charged particles like electrons are accelerated around nuclei. Since they are negatively charged, they are accelerated towards a positive nucleus, emitting as they curve around a ‘braking radiation’ or‘bremsstrahlung’ in German. The degree of ‘bend’ determines the energy of the X rays produced, so the radiation emitted is over a continuum of wavelengths .
Additionally, the electrons may directly promote other electrons in the metal atoms of the target from its lower to higher energy levels- when these decay back they emit characteristic X-photons. Here two characteristic jumps are superposed on the bremsstrahlung background. The relative intensity is a measure of how likely this event is.
We won’t go into details here, except the only real difference between these and gamma rays is that gamma rays are emitted spontaneously from excited nuclei. X rays pass through human tissue, being absorbed by denser material. In 1901, Wilhelm Roentgen was the first person ever to win the Nobel Prize for Physics and his discovery revolutionised the medical world.
Some schools have a small version of one of these.
Electrons are accelerated in a vacuum towards a metal target, W in this case. X rays are produced – notice they are not subject to a ‘law of reflection’ – and pass through and out of a collection window for use. At diagnostic voltages (140KV for a chest X-ray) the mechanism for energy loss in the body is photoelectric. The anode gets very hot and has to be cooled, the target is often rotated otherwise the heat generated would destroy it. The X rays are partially absorbed by the area of interest in the patient and the data collected on photographic film as a negative image where high absorption is seen as a light area and vice versa.