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College Physics 2e

30.4 X Rays: Atomic Origins and Applications

College Physics 2e30.4 X Rays: Atomic Origins and Applications

Table of contents
  1. Preface
  2. 1 Introduction: The Nature of Science and Physics
    1. Introduction to Science and the Realm of Physics, Physical Quantities, and Units
    2. 1.1 Physics: An Introduction
    3. 1.2 Physical Quantities and Units
    4. 1.3 Accuracy, Precision, and Significant Figures
    5. 1.4 Approximation
    6. Glossary
    7. Section Summary
    8. Conceptual Questions
    9. Problems & Exercises
  3. 2 Kinematics
    1. Introduction to One-Dimensional Kinematics
    2. 2.1 Displacement
    3. 2.2 Vectors, Scalars, and Coordinate Systems
    4. 2.3 Time, Velocity, and Speed
    5. 2.4 Acceleration
    6. 2.5 Motion Equations for Constant Acceleration in One Dimension
    7. 2.6 Problem-Solving Basics for One-Dimensional Kinematics
    8. 2.7 Falling Objects
    9. 2.8 Graphical Analysis of One-Dimensional Motion
    10. Glossary
    11. Section Summary
    12. Conceptual Questions
    13. Problems & Exercises
  4. 3 Two-Dimensional Kinematics
    1. Introduction to Two-Dimensional Kinematics
    2. 3.1 Kinematics in Two Dimensions: An Introduction
    3. 3.2 Vector Addition and Subtraction: Graphical Methods
    4. 3.3 Vector Addition and Subtraction: Analytical Methods
    5. 3.4 Projectile Motion
    6. 3.5 Addition of Velocities
    7. Glossary
    8. Section Summary
    9. Conceptual Questions
    10. Problems & Exercises
  5. 4 Dynamics: Force and Newton's Laws of Motion
    1. Introduction to Dynamics: Newton’s Laws of Motion
    2. 4.1 Development of Force Concept
    3. 4.2 Newton’s First Law of Motion: Inertia
    4. 4.3 Newton’s Second Law of Motion: Concept of a System
    5. 4.4 Newton’s Third Law of Motion: Symmetry in Forces
    6. 4.5 Normal, Tension, and Other Examples of Forces
    7. 4.6 Problem-Solving Strategies
    8. 4.7 Further Applications of Newton’s Laws of Motion
    9. 4.8 Extended Topic: The Four Basic Forces—An Introduction
    10. Glossary
    11. Section Summary
    12. Conceptual Questions
    13. Problems & Exercises
  6. 5 Further Applications of Newton's Laws: Friction, Drag, and Elasticity
    1. Introduction: Further Applications of Newton’s Laws
    2. 5.1 Friction
    3. 5.2 Drag Forces
    4. 5.3 Elasticity: Stress and Strain
    5. Glossary
    6. Section Summary
    7. Conceptual Questions
    8. Problems & Exercises
  7. 6 Uniform Circular Motion and Gravitation
    1. Introduction to Uniform Circular Motion and Gravitation
    2. 6.1 Rotation Angle and Angular Velocity
    3. 6.2 Centripetal Acceleration
    4. 6.3 Centripetal Force
    5. 6.4 Fictitious Forces and Non-inertial Frames: The Coriolis Force
    6. 6.5 Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation
    7. 6.6 Satellites and Kepler’s Laws: An Argument for Simplicity
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
  8. 7 Work, Energy, and Energy Resources
    1. Introduction to Work, Energy, and Energy Resources
    2. 7.1 Work: The Scientific Definition
    3. 7.2 Kinetic Energy and the Work-Energy Theorem
    4. 7.3 Gravitational Potential Energy
    5. 7.4 Conservative Forces and Potential Energy
    6. 7.5 Nonconservative Forces
    7. 7.6 Conservation of Energy
    8. 7.7 Power
    9. 7.8 Work, Energy, and Power in Humans
    10. 7.9 World Energy Use
    11. Glossary
    12. Section Summary
    13. Conceptual Questions
    14. Problems & Exercises
  9. 8 Linear Momentum and Collisions
    1. Introduction to Linear Momentum and Collisions
    2. 8.1 Linear Momentum and Force
    3. 8.2 Impulse
    4. 8.3 Conservation of Momentum
    5. 8.4 Elastic Collisions in One Dimension
    6. 8.5 Inelastic Collisions in One Dimension
    7. 8.6 Collisions of Point Masses in Two Dimensions
    8. 8.7 Introduction to Rocket Propulsion
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  10. 9 Statics and Torque
    1. Introduction to Statics and Torque
    2. 9.1 The First Condition for Equilibrium
    3. 9.2 The Second Condition for Equilibrium
    4. 9.3 Stability
    5. 9.4 Applications of Statics, Including Problem-Solving Strategies
    6. 9.5 Simple Machines
    7. 9.6 Forces and Torques in Muscles and Joints
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
  11. 10 Rotational Motion and Angular Momentum
    1. Introduction to Rotational Motion and Angular Momentum
    2. 10.1 Angular Acceleration
    3. 10.2 Kinematics of Rotational Motion
    4. 10.3 Dynamics of Rotational Motion: Rotational Inertia
    5. 10.4 Rotational Kinetic Energy: Work and Energy Revisited
    6. 10.5 Angular Momentum and Its Conservation
    7. 10.6 Collisions of Extended Bodies in Two Dimensions
    8. 10.7 Gyroscopic Effects: Vector Aspects of Angular Momentum
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  12. 11 Fluid Statics
    1. Introduction to Fluid Statics
    2. 11.1 What Is a Fluid?
    3. 11.2 Density
    4. 11.3 Pressure
    5. 11.4 Variation of Pressure with Depth in a Fluid
    6. 11.5 Pascal’s Principle
    7. 11.6 Gauge Pressure, Absolute Pressure, and Pressure Measurement
    8. 11.7 Archimedes’ Principle
    9. 11.8 Cohesion and Adhesion in Liquids: Surface Tension and Capillary Action
    10. 11.9 Pressures in the Body
    11. Glossary
    12. Section Summary
    13. Conceptual Questions
    14. Problems & Exercises
  13. 12 Fluid Dynamics and Its Biological and Medical Applications
    1. Introduction to Fluid Dynamics and Its Biological and Medical Applications
    2. 12.1 Flow Rate and Its Relation to Velocity
    3. 12.2 Bernoulli’s Equation
    4. 12.3 The Most General Applications of Bernoulli’s Equation
    5. 12.4 Viscosity and Laminar Flow; Poiseuille’s Law
    6. 12.5 The Onset of Turbulence
    7. 12.6 Motion of an Object in a Viscous Fluid
    8. 12.7 Molecular Transport Phenomena: Diffusion, Osmosis, and Related Processes
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  14. 13 Temperature, Kinetic Theory, and the Gas Laws
    1. Introduction to Temperature, Kinetic Theory, and the Gas Laws
    2. 13.1 Temperature
    3. 13.2 Thermal Expansion of Solids and Liquids
    4. 13.3 The Ideal Gas Law
    5. 13.4 Kinetic Theory: Atomic and Molecular Explanation of Pressure and Temperature
    6. 13.5 Phase Changes
    7. 13.6 Humidity, Evaporation, and Boiling
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
  15. 14 Heat and Heat Transfer Methods
    1. Introduction to Heat and Heat Transfer Methods
    2. 14.1 Heat
    3. 14.2 Temperature Change and Heat Capacity
    4. 14.3 Phase Change and Latent Heat
    5. 14.4 Heat Transfer Methods
    6. 14.5 Conduction
    7. 14.6 Convection
    8. 14.7 Radiation
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  16. 15 Thermodynamics
    1. Introduction to Thermodynamics
    2. 15.1 The First Law of Thermodynamics
    3. 15.2 The First Law of Thermodynamics and Some Simple Processes
    4. 15.3 Introduction to the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Heat Engines and Their Efficiency
    5. 15.4 Carnot’s Perfect Heat Engine: The Second Law of Thermodynamics Restated
    6. 15.5 Applications of Thermodynamics: Heat Pumps and Refrigerators
    7. 15.6 Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Disorder and the Unavailability of Energy
    8. 15.7 Statistical Interpretation of Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics: The Underlying Explanation
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  17. 16 Oscillatory Motion and Waves
    1. Introduction to Oscillatory Motion and Waves
    2. 16.1 Hooke’s Law: Stress and Strain Revisited
    3. 16.2 Period and Frequency in Oscillations
    4. 16.3 Simple Harmonic Motion: A Special Periodic Motion
    5. 16.4 The Simple Pendulum
    6. 16.5 Energy and the Simple Harmonic Oscillator
    7. 16.6 Uniform Circular Motion and Simple Harmonic Motion
    8. 16.7 Damped Harmonic Motion
    9. 16.8 Forced Oscillations and Resonance
    10. 16.9 Waves
    11. 16.10 Superposition and Interference
    12. 16.11 Energy in Waves: Intensity
    13. Glossary
    14. Section Summary
    15. Conceptual Questions
    16. Problems & Exercises
  18. 17 Physics of Hearing
    1. Introduction to the Physics of Hearing
    2. 17.1 Sound
    3. 17.2 Speed of Sound, Frequency, and Wavelength
    4. 17.3 Sound Intensity and Sound Level
    5. 17.4 Doppler Effect and Sonic Booms
    6. 17.5 Sound Interference and Resonance: Standing Waves in Air Columns
    7. 17.6 Hearing
    8. 17.7 Ultrasound
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  19. 18 Electric Charge and Electric Field
    1. Introduction to Electric Charge and Electric Field
    2. 18.1 Static Electricity and Charge: Conservation of Charge
    3. 18.2 Conductors and Insulators
    4. 18.3 Coulomb’s Law
    5. 18.4 Electric Field: Concept of a Field Revisited
    6. 18.5 Electric Field Lines: Multiple Charges
    7. 18.6 Electric Forces in Biology
    8. 18.7 Conductors and Electric Fields in Static Equilibrium
    9. 18.8 Applications of Electrostatics
    10. Glossary
    11. Section Summary
    12. Conceptual Questions
    13. Problems & Exercises
  20. 19 Electric Potential and Electric Field
    1. Introduction to Electric Potential and Electric Energy
    2. 19.1 Electric Potential Energy: Potential Difference
    3. 19.2 Electric Potential in a Uniform Electric Field
    4. 19.3 Electrical Potential Due to a Point Charge
    5. 19.4 Equipotential Lines
    6. 19.5 Capacitors and Dielectrics
    7. 19.6 Capacitors in Series and Parallel
    8. 19.7 Energy Stored in Capacitors
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  21. 20 Electric Current, Resistance, and Ohm's Law
    1. Introduction to Electric Current, Resistance, and Ohm's Law
    2. 20.1 Current
    3. 20.2 Ohm’s Law: Resistance and Simple Circuits
    4. 20.3 Resistance and Resistivity
    5. 20.4 Electric Power and Energy
    6. 20.5 Alternating Current versus Direct Current
    7. 20.6 Electric Hazards and the Human Body
    8. 20.7 Nerve Conduction–Electrocardiograms
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  22. 21 Circuits and DC Instruments
    1. Introduction to Circuits and DC Instruments
    2. 21.1 Resistors in Series and Parallel
    3. 21.2 Electromotive Force: Terminal Voltage
    4. 21.3 Kirchhoff’s Rules
    5. 21.4 DC Voltmeters and Ammeters
    6. 21.5 Null Measurements
    7. 21.6 DC Circuits Containing Resistors and Capacitors
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
  23. 22 Magnetism
    1. Introduction to Magnetism
    2. 22.1 Magnets
    3. 22.2 Ferromagnets and Electromagnets
    4. 22.3 Magnetic Fields and Magnetic Field Lines
    5. 22.4 Magnetic Field Strength: Force on a Moving Charge in a Magnetic Field
    6. 22.5 Force on a Moving Charge in a Magnetic Field: Examples and Applications
    7. 22.6 The Hall Effect
    8. 22.7 Magnetic Force on a Current-Carrying Conductor
    9. 22.8 Torque on a Current Loop: Motors and Meters
    10. 22.9 Magnetic Fields Produced by Currents: Ampere’s Law
    11. 22.10 Magnetic Force between Two Parallel Conductors
    12. 22.11 More Applications of Magnetism
    13. Glossary
    14. Section Summary
    15. Conceptual Questions
    16. Problems & Exercises
  24. 23 Electromagnetic Induction, AC Circuits, and Electrical Technologies
    1. Introduction to Electromagnetic Induction, AC Circuits and Electrical Technologies
    2. 23.1 Induced Emf and Magnetic Flux
    3. 23.2 Faraday’s Law of Induction: Lenz’s Law
    4. 23.3 Motional Emf
    5. 23.4 Eddy Currents and Magnetic Damping
    6. 23.5 Electric Generators
    7. 23.6 Back Emf
    8. 23.7 Transformers
    9. 23.8 Electrical Safety: Systems and Devices
    10. 23.9 Inductance
    11. 23.10 RL Circuits
    12. 23.11 Reactance, Inductive and Capacitive
    13. 23.12 RLC Series AC Circuits
    14. Glossary
    15. Section Summary
    16. Conceptual Questions
    17. Problems & Exercises
  25. 24 Electromagnetic Waves
    1. Introduction to Electromagnetic Waves
    2. 24.1 Maxwell’s Equations: Electromagnetic Waves Predicted and Observed
    3. 24.2 Production of Electromagnetic Waves
    4. 24.3 The Electromagnetic Spectrum
    5. 24.4 Energy in Electromagnetic Waves
    6. Glossary
    7. Section Summary
    8. Conceptual Questions
    9. Problems & Exercises
  26. 25 Geometric Optics
    1. Introduction to Geometric Optics
    2. 25.1 The Ray Aspect of Light
    3. 25.2 The Law of Reflection
    4. 25.3 The Law of Refraction
    5. 25.4 Total Internal Reflection
    6. 25.5 Dispersion: The Rainbow and Prisms
    7. 25.6 Image Formation by Lenses
    8. 25.7 Image Formation by Mirrors
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  27. 26 Vision and Optical Instruments
    1. Introduction to Vision and Optical Instruments
    2. 26.1 Physics of the Eye
    3. 26.2 Vision Correction
    4. 26.3 Color and Color Vision
    5. 26.4 Microscopes
    6. 26.5 Telescopes
    7. 26.6 Aberrations
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
  28. 27 Wave Optics
    1. Introduction to Wave Optics
    2. 27.1 The Wave Aspect of Light: Interference
    3. 27.2 Huygens's Principle: Diffraction
    4. 27.3 Young’s Double Slit Experiment
    5. 27.4 Multiple Slit Diffraction
    6. 27.5 Single Slit Diffraction
    7. 27.6 Limits of Resolution: The Rayleigh Criterion
    8. 27.7 Thin Film Interference
    9. 27.8 Polarization
    10. 27.9 *Extended Topic* Microscopy Enhanced by the Wave Characteristics of Light
    11. Glossary
    12. Section Summary
    13. Conceptual Questions
    14. Problems & Exercises
  29. 28 Special Relativity
    1. Introduction to Special Relativity
    2. 28.1 Einstein’s Postulates
    3. 28.2 Simultaneity And Time Dilation
    4. 28.3 Length Contraction
    5. 28.4 Relativistic Addition of Velocities
    6. 28.5 Relativistic Momentum
    7. 28.6 Relativistic Energy
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
  30. 29 Quantum Physics
    1. Introduction to Quantum Physics
    2. 29.1 Quantization of Energy
    3. 29.2 The Photoelectric Effect
    4. 29.3 Photon Energies and the Electromagnetic Spectrum
    5. 29.4 Photon Momentum
    6. 29.5 The Particle-Wave Duality
    7. 29.6 The Wave Nature of Matter
    8. 29.7 Probability: The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle
    9. 29.8 The Particle-Wave Duality Reviewed
    10. Glossary
    11. Section Summary
    12. Conceptual Questions
    13. Problems & Exercises
  31. 30 Atomic Physics
    1. Introduction to Atomic Physics
    2. 30.1 Discovery of the Atom
    3. 30.2 Discovery of the Parts of the Atom: Electrons and Nuclei
    4. 30.3 Bohr’s Theory of the Hydrogen Atom
    5. 30.4 X Rays: Atomic Origins and Applications
    6. 30.5 Applications of Atomic Excitations and De-Excitations
    7. 30.6 The Wave Nature of Matter Causes Quantization
    8. 30.7 Patterns in Spectra Reveal More Quantization
    9. 30.8 Quantum Numbers and Rules
    10. 30.9 The Pauli Exclusion Principle
    11. Glossary
    12. Section Summary
    13. Conceptual Questions
    14. Problems & Exercises
  32. 31 Radioactivity and Nuclear Physics
    1. Introduction to Radioactivity and Nuclear Physics
    2. 31.1 Nuclear Radioactivity
    3. 31.2 Radiation Detection and Detectors
    4. 31.3 Substructure of the Nucleus
    5. 31.4 Nuclear Decay and Conservation Laws
    6. 31.5 Half-Life and Activity
    7. 31.6 Binding Energy
    8. 31.7 Tunneling
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  33. 32 Medical Applications of Nuclear Physics
    1. Introduction to Applications of Nuclear Physics
    2. 32.1 Diagnostics and Medical Imaging
    3. 32.2 Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation
    4. 32.3 Therapeutic Uses of Ionizing Radiation
    5. 32.4 Food Irradiation
    6. 32.5 Fusion
    7. 32.6 Fission
    8. 32.7 Nuclear Weapons
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  34. 33 Particle Physics
    1. Introduction to Particle Physics
    2. 33.1 The Yukawa Particle and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle Revisited
    3. 33.2 The Four Basic Forces
    4. 33.3 Accelerators Create Matter from Energy
    5. 33.4 Particles, Patterns, and Conservation Laws
    6. 33.5 Quarks: Is That All There Is?
    7. 33.6 GUTs: The Unification of Forces
    8. Glossary
    9. Section Summary
    10. Conceptual Questions
    11. Problems & Exercises
  35. 34 Frontiers of Physics
    1. Introduction to Frontiers of Physics
    2. 34.1 Cosmology and Particle Physics
    3. 34.2 General Relativity and Quantum Gravity
    4. 34.3 Superstrings
    5. 34.4 Dark Matter and Closure
    6. 34.5 Complexity and Chaos
    7. 34.6 High-temperature Superconductors
    8. 34.7 Some Questions We Know to Ask
    9. Glossary
    10. Section Summary
    11. Conceptual Questions
    12. Problems & Exercises
  36. A | Atomic Masses
  37. B | Selected Radioactive Isotopes
  38. C | Useful Information
  39. D | Glossary of Key Symbols and Notation
  40. Answer Key
    1. Chapter 1
    2. Chapter 2
    3. Chapter 3
    4. Chapter 4
    5. Chapter 5
    6. Chapter 6
    7. Chapter 7
    8. Chapter 8
    9. Chapter 9
    10. Chapter 10
    11. Chapter 11
    12. Chapter 12
    13. Chapter 13
    14. Chapter 14
    15. Chapter 15
    16. Chapter 16
    17. Chapter 17
    18. Chapter 18
    19. Chapter 19
    20. Chapter 20
    21. Chapter 21
    22. Chapter 22
    23. Chapter 23
    24. Chapter 24
    25. Chapter 25
    26. Chapter 26
    27. Chapter 27
    28. Chapter 28
    29. Chapter 29
    30. Chapter 30
    31. Chapter 31
    32. Chapter 32
    33. Chapter 33
    34. Chapter 34
  41. Index

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Define x-ray tube and its spectrum.
  • Show the x-ray characteristic energy.
  • Specify the use of x rays in medical observations.
  • Explain the use of x rays in CT scanners in diagnostics.

Each type of atom (or element) has its own characteristic electromagnetic spectrum. X rays lie at the high-frequency end of an atom’s spectrum and are characteristic of the atom as well. In this section, we explore characteristic x rays and some of their important applications.

We have previously discussed x rays as a part of the electromagnetic spectrum in Photon Energies and the Electromagnetic Spectrum. That module illustrated how an x-ray tube (a specialized CRT) produces x rays. Electrons emitted from a hot filament are accelerated with a high voltage, gaining significant kinetic energy and striking the anode.

There are two processes by which x rays are produced in the anode of an x-ray tube. In one process, the deceleration of electrons produces x rays, and these x rays are called bremsstrahlung, or braking radiation. The second process is atomic in nature and produces characteristic x rays, so called because they are characteristic of the anode material. The x-ray spectrum in Figure 30.20 is typical of what is produced by an x-ray tube, showing a broad curve of bremsstrahlung radiation with characteristic x-ray peaks on it.

A graph of X-ray intensity versus frequency is shown. The curve starts from a point near the origin in the first quadrant and increases. Before the frequency attains its maximum value, two sharp peaks are formed, after which the X-ray intensity decreases sharply to zero at f max. Below the graph appears the equation q V equals h f max.
Figure 30.20 X-ray spectrum obtained when energetic electrons strike a material, such as in the anode of a CRT. The smooth part of the spectrum is bremsstrahlung radiation, while the peaks are characteristic of the anode material. A different anode material would have characteristic x-ray peaks at different frequencies.

The spectrum in Figure 30.20 is collected over a period of time in which many electrons strike the anode, with a variety of possible outcomes for each hit. The broad range of x-ray energies in the bremsstrahlung radiation indicates that an incident electron’s energy is not usually converted entirely into photon energy. The highest-energy x ray produced is one for which all of the electron’s energy was converted to photon energy. Thus the accelerating voltage and the maximum x-ray energy are related by conservation of energy. Electric potential energy is converted to kinetic energy and then to photon energy, so that Emax=hfmax=qeV.Emax=hfmax=qeV. Units of electron volts are convenient. For example, a 100-kV accelerating voltage produces x-ray photons with a maximum energy of 100 keV.

Some electrons excite atoms in the anode. Part of the energy that they deposit by collision with an atom results in one or more of the atom’s inner electrons being knocked into a higher orbit or the atom being ionized. When the anode’s atoms de-excite, they emit characteristic electromagnetic radiation. The most energetic of these are produced when an inner-shell vacancy is filled—that is, when an n=1n=1 or n=2n=2 shell electron has been excited to a higher level, and another electron falls into the vacant spot. A characteristic x ray (see Photon Energies and the Electromagnetic Spectrum) is electromagnetic (EM) radiation emitted by an atom when an inner-shell vacancy is filled. Figure 30.21 shows a representative energy-level diagram that illustrates the labeling of characteristic x rays. X rays created when an electron falls into an n=1n=1 shell vacancy are called KαKα when they come from the next higher level; that is, an n=2n=2 to n=1n=1 transition. The labels K, L, M,...K, L, M,... come from the older alphabetical labeling of shells starting with KK rather than using the principal quantum numbers 1, 2, 3, …. A more energetic KβKβ x ray is produced when an electron falls into an n=1n=1 shell vacancy from the n=3n=3 shell; that is, an n=3n=3 to n=1n=1 transition. Similarly, when an electron falls into the n=2n=2 shell from the n=3n=3 shell, an LαLα x ray is created. The energies of these x rays depend on the energies of electron states in the particular atom and, thus, are characteristic of that element: every element has it own set of x-ray energies. This property can be used to identify elements, for example, to find trace (small) amounts of an element in an environmental or biological sample.

Different energy levels are shown in the form of horizontal lines. The line at the bottom shows the energy level for n is equal to one for the K shell. At a distance above this line, another horizontal line shows the energy level for n is equal to two for the shell L. Similarly, other lines are shown for the shells M and N. As we move from bottom to the top, the distance between the lines decreases, and near the end a few lines are shown very close to each other. Each level is labeled according to the characteristic x ray of the shell.
Figure 30.21 A characteristic x ray is emitted when an electron fills an inner-shell vacancy, as shown for several transitions in this approximate energy level diagram for a multiple-electron atom. Characteristic x rays are labeled according to the shell that had the vacancy and the shell from which the electron came. A KαKα x ray, for example, is produced when an electron coming from the n=2n=2 shell fills the n=1n=1 shell vacancy.

Example 30.2

Characteristic X-Ray Energy

Calculate the approximate energy of a KαKα x ray from a tungsten anode in an x-ray tube.


How do we calculate energies in a multiple-electron atom? In the case of characteristic x rays, the following approximate calculation is reasonable. Characteristic x rays are produced when an inner-shell vacancy is filled. Inner-shell electrons are nearer the nucleus than others in an atom and thus feel little net effect from the others. This is similar to what happens inside a charged conductor, where its excess charge is distributed over the surface so that it produces no electric field inside. It is reasonable to assume the inner-shell electrons have hydrogen-like energies, as given by En=Z2n2E0En=Z2n2E0n=1, 2, 3, ...n=1, 2, 3, .... As noted, a KαKα x ray is produced by an n=2n=2 to n=1n=1 transition. Since there are two electrons in a filled KK shell, a vacancy would leave one electron, so that the effective charge would be Z1Z1 rather than ZZ. For tungsten, Z=74Z=74, so that the effective charge is 73.


En=Z2n2E0En=Z2n2E0n=1, 2, 3, ...n=1, 2, 3, ... gives the orbital energies for hydrogen-like atoms to be En=(Z2/n2)E0En=(Z2/n2)E0, where E0=13.6 eVE0=13.6 eV. As noted, the effective ZZ is 73. Now the KαKα x-ray energy is given by

E K α =Δ E = E i E f = E 2 E 1 , E K α =Δ E = E i E f = E 2 E 1 ,


E 1 = Z 2 1 2 E 0 = 73 2 1 ( 13.6 eV ) = 72.5 keV E 1 = Z 2 1 2 E 0 = 73 2 1 ( 13.6 eV ) = 72.5 keV


E 2 = Z 2 2 2 E 0 = 73 2 4 ( 13.6 eV ) = 18.1 keV. E 2 = Z 2 2 2 E 0 = 73 2 4 ( 13.6 eV ) = 18.1 keV.


EKα=18.1 keV(72.5 keV)=54.4 keV.EKα=18.1 keV(72.5 keV)=54.4 keV.


This large photon energy is typical of characteristic x rays from heavy elements. It is large compared with other atomic emissions because it is produced when an inner-shell vacancy is filled, and inner-shell electrons are tightly bound. Characteristic x ray energies become progressively larger for heavier elements because their energy increases approximately as Z2Z2. Significant accelerating voltage is needed to create these inner-shell vacancies. In the case of tungsten, at least 72.5 kV is needed, because other shells are filled and you cannot simply bump one electron to a higher filled shell. Tungsten is a common anode material in x-ray tubes; so much of the energy of the impinging electrons is absorbed, raising its temperature, that a high-melting-point material like tungsten is required.

Medical and Other Diagnostic Uses of X-rays

All of us can identify diagnostic uses of x-ray photons. Among these are the universal dental and medical x rays that have become an essential part of medical diagnostics. (See Figure 30.23 and Figure 30.24.) X rays are also used to inspect our luggage at airports, as shown in Figure 30.22, and for early detection of cracks in crucial aircraft components. An x ray is not only a noun meaning high-energy photon, it also is an image produced by x rays, and it has been made into a familiar verb—to be x-rayed.

The X-ray image of front view of the jaw, especially the teeth.
Figure 30.22 An x-ray image reveals fillings in a person’s teeth. (credit: Dmitry G, Wikimedia Commons)
An X-ray image of a person’s chest is shown, clearly showing a pacemaker in the left side.
Figure 30.23 This x-ray image of a person’s chest shows many details, including an artificial pacemaker. (credit: Sunzi99, Wikimedia Commons)
A colored X-ray image of a piece of luggage.
Figure 30.24 This x-ray image shows the contents of a piece of luggage. The denser the material, the darker the shadow. (credit: IDuke, Wikimedia Commons)

The most common x-ray images are simple shadows. Since x-ray photons have high energies, they penetrate materials that are opaque to visible light. The more energy an x-ray photon has, the more material it will penetrate. So an x-ray tube may be operated at 50.0 kV for a chest x ray, whereas it may need to be operated at 100 kV to examine a broken leg in a cast. The depth of penetration is related to the density of the material as well as to the energy of the photon. The denser the material, the fewer x-ray photons get through and the darker the shadow. Thus x rays excel at detecting breaks in bones and in imaging other physiological structures, such as some tumors, that differ in density from surrounding material. Because of their high photon energy, x rays produce significant ionization in materials and damage cells in biological organisms. Modern uses minimize exposure to the patient and eliminate exposure to others. Biological effects of x rays will be explored in the next chapter along with other types of ionizing radiation such as those produced by nuclei.

As the x-ray energy increases, the Compton effect (see Photon Momentum) becomes more important in the attenuation of the x rays. Here, the x ray scatters from an outer electron shell of the atom, giving the ejected electron some kinetic energy while losing energy itself. The probability for attenuation of the x rays depends upon the number of electrons present (the material’s density) as well as the thickness of the material. Chemical composition of the medium, as characterized by its atomic number ZZ, is not important here. Low-energy x rays provide better contrast (sharper images). However, due to greater attenuation and less scattering, they are more absorbed by thicker materials. Greater contrast can be achieved by injecting a substance with a large atomic number, such as barium or iodine. The structure of the part of the body that contains the substance (e.g., the gastro-intestinal tract or the abdomen) can easily be seen this way.

Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of death among women worldwide. Early detection can be very effective, hence the importance of x-ray diagnostics. A mammogram cannot diagnose a malignant tumor, only give evidence of a lump or region of increased density within the breast. X-ray absorption by different types of soft tissue is very similar, so contrast is difficult; this is especially true for younger women, who typically have denser breasts. For older women who are at greater risk of developing breast cancer, the presence of more fat in the breast gives the lump or tumor more contrast. MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging) has recently been used as a supplement to conventional x rays to improve detection and eliminate false positives. The subject’s radiation dose from x rays will be treated in a later chapter.

A standard x ray gives only a two-dimensional view of the object. Dense bones might hide images of soft tissue or organs. If you took another x ray from the side of the person (the first one being from the front), you would gain additional information. While shadow images are sufficient in many applications, far more sophisticated images can be produced with modern technology. Figure 30.25 shows the use of a computed tomography (CT) scanner, also called computed axial tomography (CAT) scanner. X rays are passed through a narrow section (called a slice) of the patient’s body (or body part) over a range of directions. An array of many detectors on the other side of the patient registers the x rays. The system is then rotated around the patient and another image is taken, and so on. The x-ray tube and detector array are mechanically attached and so rotate together. Complex computer image processing of the relative absorption of the x rays along different directions produces a highly-detailed image. Different slices are taken as the patient moves through the scanner on a table. Multiple images of different slices can also be computer analyzed to produce three-dimensional information, sometimes enhancing specific types of tissue, as shown in Figure 30.26. G. Hounsfield (UK) and A. Cormack (US) won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1979 for their development of computed tomography.

A photographic image taken through the port of a C T scanner, showing a patient on a stretcher surrounded by three nursing staff and a doctor who are taking the patient’s C T scan.
Figure 30.25 A patient being positioned in a CT scanner aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy. The CT scanner passes x rays through slices of the patient’s body (or body part) over a range of directions. The relative absorption of the x rays along different directions is computer analyzed to produce highly detailed images. Three-dimensional information can be obtained from multiple slices. (credit: Rebecca Moat, U.S. Navy)
A 3-D image showing a human skull from the front.
Figure 30.26 This three-dimensional image of a skull was produced by computed tomography, involving analysis of several x-ray slices of the head. (credit: Emailshankar, Wikimedia Commons)

X-Ray Diffraction and Crystallography

Since x-ray photons are very energetic, they have relatively short wavelengths. For example, the 54.4-keV KαKα x ray of Example 30.2 has a wavelength λ=hc/E=0.0228 nmλ=hc/E=0.0228 nm. Thus, typical x-ray photons act like rays when they encounter macroscopic objects, like teeth, and produce sharp shadows; however, since atoms are on the order of 0.1 nm in size, x rays can be used to detect the location, shape, and size of atoms and molecules. The process is called x-ray diffraction, because it involves the diffraction and interference of x rays to produce patterns that can be analyzed for information about the structures that scattered the x rays. Perhaps the most famous example of x-ray diffraction is the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA in 1953 by an international team of scientists working at the Cavendish Laboratory—American James Watson, Englishman Francis Crick, and New Zealand–born Maurice Wilkins. Using x-ray diffraction data produced by Rosalind Franklin, they were the first to discern the structure of DNA that is so crucial to life. For this, Watson, Crick, and Wilkins were awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. There is much debate and controversy over the issue that Rosalind Franklin was not included in the prize.

Figure 30.27 shows a diffraction pattern produced by the scattering of x rays from a crystal. This process is known as x-ray crystallography because of the information it can yield about crystal structure, and it was the type of data Rosalind Franklin supplied to Watson and Crick for DNA. Not only do x rays confirm the size and shape of atoms, they give information on the atomic arrangements in materials. For example, current research in high-temperature superconductors involves complex materials whose lattice arrangements are crucial to obtaining a superconducting material. These can be studied using x-ray crystallography.

An x ray diffraction image, which resembles a structured array of small black dots on a white background. A white arm extends from the top left to the center of the image, where there is a small white disk. This white disk is the shadow of the beam block, which blocks the part of the incident x ray beam that was not diffracted by the crystal.
Figure 30.27 X-ray diffraction from the crystal of a protein, hen egg lysozyme, produced this interference pattern. Analysis of the pattern yields information about the structure of the protein. (credit: Del45, Wikimedia Commons)

Historically, the scattering of x rays from crystals was used to prove that x rays are energetic EM waves. This was suspected from the time of the discovery of x rays in 1895, but it was not until 1912 that the German Max von Laue (1879–1960) convinced two of his colleagues to scatter x rays from crystals. If a diffraction pattern is obtained, he reasoned, then the x rays must be waves, and their wavelength could be determined. (The spacing of atoms in various crystals was reasonably well known at the time, based on good values for Avogadro’s number.) The experiments were convincing, and the 1914 Nobel Prize in Physics was given to von Laue for his suggestion leading to the proof that x rays are EM waves. In 1915, the unique father-and-son team of Sir William Henry Bragg and his son Sir William Lawrence Bragg were awarded a joint Nobel Prize for inventing the x-ray spectrometer and the then-new science of x-ray analysis. The elder Bragg had migrated to Australia from England just after graduating in mathematics. He learned physics and chemistry during his career at the University of Adelaide. The younger Bragg was born in Adelaide but went back to the Cavendish Laboratories in England to a career in x-ray and neutron crystallography; he provided support for Watson, Crick, and Wilkins for their work on unraveling the mysteries of DNA and to Max Perutz for his 1962 Nobel Prize-winning work on the structure of hemoglobin. Here again, we witness the enabling nature of physics—establishing instruments and designing experiments as well as solving mysteries in the biomedical sciences.

Certain other uses for x rays will be studied in later chapters. X rays are useful in the treatment of cancer because of the inhibiting effect they have on cell reproduction. X rays observed coming from outer space are useful in determining the nature of their sources, such as neutron stars and possibly black holes. Created in nuclear bomb explosions, x rays can also be used to detect clandestine atmospheric tests of these weapons. X rays can cause excitations of atoms, which then fluoresce (emitting characteristic EM radiation), making x-ray-induced fluorescence a valuable analytical tool in a range of fields from art to archaeology.

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