Exhibition explores war-time advances in radiology


A new exhibition at the Belgian Museum of Radiology sheds light on the milestone contributions of the radiology discipline to the practice of war medicine

Unsung heroes

Like many military conflicts, the First World War accelerated the rate of certain technological developments. One we don’t hear much about is radiology. It was during the Great War that X-ray machines first earned a regular place in hospitals.

A small exhibition at the Belgian Museum of Radiology, located in the Military Hospital Queen Astrid in Brussels, focuses on the role of radiology in field surgery and the development of this medical discipline throughout the wars of the 20th century – from the First World War to the War on Terror.

At the outbreak of the First World War, the discipline of radiology, which allowed doctors to see inside a living human body for the first time, was only 19 years old. Early radiologists used the grey images to make an “autopsy of the living body”.

At the dawn of war, it quickly became clear that radiology would contribute enormously to the practice of war medicine. Thanks to X-ray images, surgeons behind the frontline were able to localise bullets or pieces of shrapnel in a soldier’s body.

In the exhibition, you learn about the radio-opaque fluids that were first used by doctors on both sides of the Western front. These fluids raised the contrast of the X-ray images and produced sharp contours of the projectile inside the body – an early form of tomography.

From 1916 it was possible to send X-rays into the body at different angles, improving the locationing of projectiles. Now this technique – called computer tomography, or CT – is often used to find tumours and to measure their precise dimensions.

After the First World War, radiology consolidated its place in medicine – this time for civilian use – and soon every hospital and doctor’s office was equipped with an X-ray machine. 

Until 15 December at the Belgium Museum of Radiology, Brussels

A new exhibition at the Belgian Museum of Radiology explores the milestone contributions of radiology to the practice of war medicine.

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First World War

Claiming the lives of more than nine million people and destroying entire cities and villages in Europe, the Great War was one of the most dramatic armed conflicts in human history. It lasted from 1914 to 1918.
Flanders Field - For four years, a tiny corner of Flanders known as the Westhoek became one of the war’s major battlefields.
Untouched - Poperinge, near Ypres, was one of the few towns in Flanders that remained unoccupied for most of the war.
Cemetery - The Tyne Cot graveyard in Passchendaele is the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world.
550 000

lives lost in West Flanders

368 000

annual visitors to the Westhoek

1 914

First Battle of Ypres