If you've ever had a computed tomography (CT) scan at the clinic or an X-ray at your dentist's office, you already understand a little about radiography and how it can be used for diagnostic and treatment purposes in healthcare.
But did you know the applications of radiography, defined as the use of electromagnetic radiation to examine objects without damaging or destroying them, go beyond medicine? If you're interested in radiography but don't see yourself working in a clinical setting, check out these other career options.
Every day, industrial radiographers use X-rays, gamma rays and other forms of radiation to ensure products, equipment, parts and other solid materials don't have cracks or other flaws that could put lives in jeopardy.
For example, some industrial radiographers inspect the welding of pressure vessels, pipelines, ships and nuclear reactor components to look for imperfections that might affect their soundness. Other industrial radiographers, sometimes known as nondestructive testers, examine the quality of solid material itself to ensure it is uniform throughout, and thus of a high quality that will be safe for the long term.
The March 2003 issue of Radiology tells the story of how modern radiography techniques allowed researchers to study a 5,300-year-old "Iceman" discovered in the Tyrolean Alps without damaging him.
For 10 years following the Iceman's discovery in 1991, scientists from Austria, Italy and the United States imaged the Iceman's bones and tissues using X-rays, CT scans and other techniques. They concluded the Iceman showed evidence of degenerative arthritis, frostbite and vascular (blood vessel) calcification, and that he had likely died from an arrowhead lodged between his left shoulder and rib cage.
"The imaging research provided a means for nondestructive investigation," says Dr. William Murphy, lead author of the study and professor of radiology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. "Dramatic information was obtained without damage to the body, and application of modern medical imaging promoted preservation.
After disasters such as the September 11 terrorist attacks and other recent catastrophes, one of the many enormous challenges is identifying human remains and returning them to their families. Often, radiographers play a key role.
In 2002, authorities in Noble, Georgia, discovered more than 300 bodies around the Tri-State Crematory -- bodies that should have been cremated. Radiologists from a nearby hospital and the federal government were instrumental in the identification process, because they were able to detect healed bones and surgical hardware, such as pacemakers, in some of the bodies.
Since the September 11 attacks, the United States has become more vigilant when it comes to homeland security. Radiography was already a part of security at airports and border crossings, and its role will only increase in the years ahead.
Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico are working on a way to use muons -- fragments of cosmic rays that interact with Earth's atmosphere and pass through Earth's surface at a rate of about 10,000 particles per square meter per minute -- to detect dense, dangerous materials like uranium or plutonium.
In both laboratory experiments and corresponding computer simulations, the scientists have been able to image uranium by tracking the paths of muons as they pass through the material.
"We found that we could detect a one-liter block of uranium in the equivalent of a truckload of sheep, for example," says William Priedhorsky, chief scientist of the lab's Nonproliferation and International Security Division. "And the greater the efforts at shielding the material, the more obvious it becomes with the muon technology.
If you're interested in learning more about nonmedical career possibilities in radiography, check out the following resources: