Although scientists have only known about radiation since the 1890s, they have developed a wide variety of uses for this natural force.
Today, to benefit humankind, radiation is used in medicine, academics, and industry, as well as for generating electricity.
In addition, radiation has useful applications in such areas as agriculture, archaeology (carbon dating), space exploration, law enforcement, geology (including mining), and many others.
In fact, diagnostic x-rays or radiation therapy have been administered to about 7 out of every 10 Americans.
As a result, medical procedures using radiation have saved thousands of lives through the detection and treatment of conditions ranging from hyperthyroidism to bone cancer.
The most common of these medical procedures involve the use of x-rays — a type of radiation that can pass through our skin.
When x-rayed, our bones and other structures cast shadows because they are denser than our skin, and those shadows can be detected on photographic film.
The effect is similar to placing a pencil behind a piece of paper and holding the pencil and paper in front of a light.
The shadow of the pencil is revealed because most light has enough energy to pass through the paper, but the denser pencil stops all the light.
The difference is that x-rays are invisible, so we need photographic film to "see" them for us.
This allows doctors and dentists to spot broken bones and dental problems.
X-rays and other forms of radiation also have a variety of therapeutic uses.