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X-Rays, inside out

Did you know that Marie Curie, the discoverer of radium and two-time winner of the Nobel Prize, designed mobile X-ray vehicles to serve French medical teams in World War I field hospitals?

Or that Thomas Edison abandoned his research into X-rays because his assistant, Clarence Dally, suffered severe radiation damage to his hands, arms and face and eventually died of cancer?

“Most of the early pioneers went through that process of some kind of damage,” Greg Morrison said. “We’ve come from the obvious understanding of the advantages of (X-ray) use to the understanding of the dangers of its use.”

Morrison is showing a visitor around the American Society of Radiologic Technologists Museum and Archives in Albuquerque. This is the only museum in the world devoted to the history of X-ray technology and the profession of X-ray technologists.

Here, via videos, you can learn about Curie, Edison and other trailblazers in X-ray technology such as Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, the physicist who discovered the X-ray in 1895, and William Coolidge, the physicist who made vital contributions to the development of X-ray machines.

Morrison is chief operating officer of ASRT, an organization founded in 1920 and, since 1983, headquartered in Albuquerque.

He is executive director of the museum and archives, a 4,500-square-foot space located in the ASRT’s building on far East Central. The museum, which took $2.6 million and 17 months to build, opened a few months ago.

“Before this, we had a few display cases in the hallway,” Morrison said.

Now, the museum is as high tech as the profession it chronicles. It is alive with digital displays and smart-screen technology, as well as more traditional exhibits.

William J. Brennan Jr., left, chairman of the American Society of Radiologic Technologists board of directors, and Greg Morrison, executive director of the ASRT museum, put a protective case over a time capsule

William J. Brennan Jr., left, chairman of the American Society of Radiologic Technologists board of directors, and Greg Morrison, executive director of the ASRT museum, put a protective case over a time capsule. The capsule, which will be opened in 2065, contains publications, membership materials and other items reflecting the state of the organization in 2015. Founded in 1920, ASRT has more than 153,000 members. It has been headquartered in Albuquerque since 1983.(Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

You can learn how the profession of radiologic technologist evolved. One display depicts a Catholic nun using early 20th-century X-ray equipment on a patient.

“Nuns had a major impact on the profession through their work in Catholic hospitals,” Morrison said. “Nuns were early members of the society.”

In fact, as one display notes, the first registered radiologic technologist was Sister Mary Beatrice Merrigan of St. Anthony’s Hospital in Oklahoma City.

Much of the experience here is hands-on.

You can dress up in a replica of vintage radiation protection gear that makes you look like a character from a 1950s science fiction movie.

Or you can interact with a touch table to build a human body out of X-ray images of a skull, shoulder bones, leg bones and so on. Put a shoulder bone where a hip bone belongs, and the table will flash a signal indicating that you don’t know bones about bones.

Morrison said the museum space was designed as a teaching environment, but learning is an adventure as well as a challenge.

 This exhibit shows what a World War II-era portable X-ray unit looked like

The ASRT museum employs digital displays, smart-screen technology and more traditional displays to tell the story of X-ray technology and X-ray technologists. This exhibit shows what a World War II-era portable X-ray unit looked like. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

The exhibit featuring a scale model of a portable World War II X-ray unit is a good example.

“During World War II, X-ray units were dropped out of planes in crates,” Morrison said. “Army field radiographers had to be able to assemble the unit in less than eight minutes. So, we have a one-third scale model of a unit, and you can test yourself against the clock to see if you can put it together in eight minutes. Kids love that.”

More than 300 artifacts, including vintage equipment such as a 1935 GE portable “suitcase model” X-ray unit, are on display. Morrison said the society had some of the artifacts before the museum was designed.

“When we determined what the displays would be, we looked at what we already had and put a call out for artifacts we did not have,” he said. “ASRT members have donated a lot of the artifacts.”

Morrison’s favorite display is the Art of the Image, a mesmerizing video in which radiology is employed as a form of art. In this video, there are X-rays of flowers and landscape art composed of X-ray images of various parts of the human body.

And then there is the exhibit of bizarre X-ray images revealing some of the objects people have swallowed – spoons, bottle openers, not one but two ballpoint pens.

At this museum, exhibits are revealing, unsettling and amusing but never dull.

“There’s a lot to absorb in this small place,” Morrison said. “It’s not a large museum, but it’s very dense.”

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