Just like all great things in this world (peanut butter, low foam beer, the hands-allowed lap dance), they all have one thing in common: they came from someone equally great. However, it isn’t always the smartest or the most educated mind to create the technological advances that we hold dear and take for granted every single day. For instance, the world’s first x-ray technician and inventor may have given the medical industry the greatest single invention since the pre-existing condition, but he also had a bizarre life that could make him eligible for a mental health tax reduction.
He never completed high school and was kicked out of college
They sawy the least useful education is the one you receive in school and in a lot of ways, that’s true. For instance, my teachers never told me that scoring on the first date wouldn’t ensure you a second one. Of course, this was before teachers starting sleeping with their students.
The inventor of the x-ray received a similar education since he never obtained his high school diploma and he was even expelled from the Utrecht Technical School because of a harsh prank that he got blamed for that another student actually committed. Despite these lack of credentials, he not only went on to become a renowned physicist but he also received offers to teach at three universities, including the one that kicked me out for failing to finger the right class clown.
He rejected any profits or royal titles for his work
One of the few perks of becoming a world renowned scientist is the unique opportunity to turn your once nerdy lifestyle into that of a rapping pimp who poops diamonds. Not only can you still recite the atomic weight of every element on the Periodic Table, but you’re famous enough to do it to have people hanging on your every five syllable word.
Roentgen didn’t want any part of the life. Despite his advances, the critical acclaim and success as a physicists, he never sought out excess profits for his work and even turned down an offer of German nobility. He gave the money he earned from his Nobel Prize to a university. He didn’t even apply for a patent on his most famous invention. Instead he lived a quiet life out of the social spotlight with his invalid wife and focused solely on her and his work. And thanks all the good will, charity and karma he built up from this quiet life of study and accomplishment, he was nearly broke by the time he died.
He invented the x-ray by accident
Sometimes the very thing you’re looking for shows up when you’re not looking for it. The best time you find your keys is when you stop looking for them. And as you’re going through your day, suddenly they appear right in your hands, which is strange considering you somehow still got to work in our own car. That’s when you learn a true lesson: you need to stop huffing glue fumes first thing in the morning.
Roentgen discovered his most famous invention purely by chance. In 1895, he was working in his lab experimenting with cathode rays by trying to repeat the methods of some previous experiments to prove that the powerful rays could penetrate glass. He covered one of the tubes with black cardboard in a dark room and fed the cathode ray an electric current, but forgot to put a screen in front of the tube. The glowing tube left an impression on a piece of cardboard in the form of a giant “A” written by a student in liquid barium paltinocyanide. He replicated the situation again with a deck of cards and a book, which he could clearly see through the tube and the screen.
Collegues described him as a complete scatterbrain
Like all unbridled geniuses with a superior brain, the extreme positive swings can swing just as high in the other direction. Genius often breeds insanity and Roentgen had a crazy side to him helped him put the “eccentric” in his eccentric genius.
Some of his most famous experiments, including the one that led to the x-ray, were done in complete secret and rarely had any other witnesses. His classes and lectures made him unpopular with his students because he often jumped from concept to concept and didn’t provide clear instruction to his classes. He even left little instruction of his discoveries and experiments and ordered that all of his scientific findings be destroyed upon his death.