Today, in physics class, I was reminded of one of my favorite physics phenomena and words… Bremsstrahlung.
Who can’t love such an awesome word?
The term comes from the German word bremsen, which means, “to brake” and strahlung, which means “radiation.” Braking radiation. Almost counterintuitive when you picture radiation as stuff that can go through almost anything (which is not actually the case, energy gets transferred and stuff does indeed stop radiation in a sense, especially dense things, like lead).
Bremsstrahlung is one of the main ways in which x-rays are produced. It results when a negatively charged particle interacts with the nucleus of the atom. The positively charged nucleus causes some attractive forces with the negatively charged particle (i.e. an electron) and makes it change direction and slow down. The energy that was making it go has to go somewhere else and is emitted as an x-ray. The x-ray can be emitted in any direction, but it has a propensity to go in a certain direction based it’s energy. This type of radiation is used in all sorts of things, like your good old x-ray machines. And thus, it, like the word is pretty awesome.
I like physics. Not for the awesome words (though bremsstrahlung is pretty cool, you must agree), but because it follows rules and it makes sense. I like it better when I am not trying to do complex math on a windows calculator application, but still, these classes do remind me of that.
I have said before I am a rule follower. And physics really lets me embrace that. Things follow laws. Or at least principles. They happen in order (well, radioactive decay is random, but a predictable sort of random) and you can predict it. It is comforting and stable. And interesting.
Things in medicine also follow some principles and laws. Our bodies are fascinating and intricate. The fact we function at all is pretty amazing. But, they can fall off the beaten track. Weird and wonderful things happen all the time. People with giant lung tumors walk around like nothing is wrong. People with a small blood vessel malformation have chronic seizures. It doesn’t always make sense even when we look at physiology, at least not at levels we understand. That intricacy is fascinating. There are principles and processes that work together. But, they aren’t quite as cut and dry as a lot of physics. At least the physics I know.
Clearly, there must be something greater than us, if you can show that x-rays emit at a characteristic angle with a certain energy photon. Or that you can predict the amount of a substance to decrease a photon beam by half. That radioactive decay can be estimated with a simple calculation. Even the randomness isn’t random. Someone had to plot it out before us.
Physics reminds me we have a God and a Creator.
Because Bremsstrahlung is so cool.
And in a world where so many other things are unpredictable and scary, some things remain constant and consistent. Even if they are considered geeky and obscure, they are there.