Radiation damage

until 20. April 2024
Special exhibition in the special showrooms in the Narrenturm
All radiation – be it ultraviolet, heat, X-rays or nuclear radiation – will cause damage to the human organism if it is exposed to too much for too long. Different types are somatic damage, which occurs in the exposed organism itself, genetic damage, which appears in offspring, and teratogenic damage, which is harm to the embryo during pregnancy.

The exhibition centres around nuclear radiation and X-rays. The focus is on medical aspects, with the aim of showing radiation’s usefulness in diagnostics and treatment next to its potentially harmful effects.

When Marie and Pierre Curie coined the term radioactivity in 1898, no one could have predicted the impact its discovery was to have on humanity. Some years prior, Antoine Becquerel had discovered that uranium could be used to “expose” photographic plates without actually exposing them to sunlight. Marie Curie seized on this phenomenon and explored it further. In the process, she discovered other radioactive elements: polonium, named for her native Poland, and radium, for “radiant”. The dangers of radioactivity were largely unknown in the early 20th century, and Curie ultimately died of its effects.

Despite its potential risks, researchers investigated possible uses of radioactivity. The long-term effects and problems caused by nuclear reactor accidents would only become apparent later, after the accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima. Using nuclear power as a weapon was explored soon after the discovery of radioactivity. The deployment of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki very clearly demonstrated their harmful effects on human health that persist to this day.

X-rays, discovered by Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, are an important, non-invasive way of looking inside the human body. As X-rays are not absorbed in the same way by different kinds of tissue, they can be used to produce two-dimensional images of bones and internal organs. Imaging techniques using X-rays have significantly developed since their discovery, now also producing three-dimensional images slice by slice. However, excessive exposure to X-rays will also cause harm to the human organism. Due to lacking awareness of this in the early years, X-ray machines were used not only for medical exams, but also for entertainment, or even in shoe stores. Dose limits have been defined since then to keep damage from X-ray exposure to a minimum. Guidelines have also been established for radiation therapy, which is mainly used to treat cancer, in order to prevent or reduce its adverse side effects.