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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
 
Question 1116

What are some general uses of X-rays other than medical? — SD, Raleigh, NC
There are so many non-medical uses for X-rays that I'll limit myself to two: industrial imaging and X-ray crystallography. Industrial X-ray imaging is used frequently in manufacturing to inspect finished materials. An important example of this imaging is in weld inspection. After a sheet of steel has been rolled into a pipe and the seam of that pipe has been welded closed, it's often important to inspect the weld to be sure that it's solid and leak free. Sometimes a weld that looks perfect to the eye has hollow spots or other flaws that can only be seen by looking through the material of the weld. This inspection is done with high energy X-rays—X-rays that are able to penetrate a thick steel plate to look for bubbles or unwanted inclusions.

X-ray crystallography is an important tool for materials science and molecular biology. Just as the colored interference patterns that appear on a soap bubble when sunlight reflects from that bubble tell you something about the structure of that soap bubble, so the X-rays that reflect from a crystal tell you something about the structure of that crystal. X-rays experience interference after they reflect from a crystal and the interference patterns can tell you where individual atoms are located within a crystal or within the molecules from which the crystal is made. Materials scientists use this information to understand the crystals they have produced while molecular biologists use it to understand the molecular structures of complicated biological molecules.

         

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