- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 1, 2000

Hospital trips are harrowing for any child, and the X-ray machine often can be the scariest of all. But the National Museum of Health and Medicine at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District can help change that.
Through Jan. 1, 2001, the museum is hosting a traveling exhibit called "X is for X-ray," which tells the history of the X-ray from its discovery more than 100 years ago to its many contributions to today's medicine. The exhibit is tailored specifically for children and includes many hands-on displays and interactive features. None of the displays features any active or harmful X-rays or radiation.
"It seems to be meeting with a lot of good feelings in Washington," says Jim Walter, director of the National Atomic Museum in Albuquerque, N.M., where the exhibit was assembled in 1997. "We find that people who have seen the exhibit and seen some of the material there feel more comfortable about [X-rays]. X-rays aren't like they're pictured in Buck Rogers movies or anything.
"It does seem to help people who worry about what kind of radiation they're exposed to or wonder how many X-rays they should have in a lifetime, that kind of thing. Basically, ionizing radiation is all around us; it's a part of life."
The X-ray was discovered by German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen. He named his discovery the "X-ray" in 1895 after the mathematical symbol for the unknown. He received the first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901.
"X is for X-ray" has video clips and sound effects to show how fears and misconceptions about the ray were used by Hollywood in mutant monster movies and science-fiction works of the 1950s and 1960s. Replica "ray guns" from some of those movies are on display.
The exhibit also shows how X-ray technology is improving modern medical care. Today's magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound and positron emission tomography scans have all developed from basic X-ray technology, and visitors can hear the "thump thump" of an MRI scan. There also are before-and-after photos of patients who have been helped by radiation therapy.
Interactive pin models show visitors how precise radiation technology is, allowing minute areas of the body to receive the necessary treatment. Actual X-ray films are on hand, and visitors can see what a broken bone or a swallowed coin or pin looks like.
Mr. Walter says "X is for X-ray" is the first exhibit his museum has put together for the road, but he hopes more will follow in the next few years. Already the X-ray exhibit has been displayed at the Boston Science Museum and the Museum of Health and Medical Science in Houston.
"There aren't as many science exhibitions around that fit within the purview of the National Atomic Museum," Mr. Walter says. "We hope to have some more on energy and space exploration in the future."
Adrienne Noe, director of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, says the museum decided to bring the exhibit to Walter Reed because it ties in with many other exhibits on display there.
"We like to try to highlight or amplify themes from our own collection," Ms. Noe says. "Medical imagings are so important and such a common piece of the diagnostic process that just about everybody encounters them. There's a lot of curiosity about how these things work, and the X-ray recently had its centennial, so it's back in the news again."

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