The Department of Radiology & Radiological Sciences

 (1845 - 1923)
Professor of Physics
Würzburg University
Discoverer of X-Rays
Nobel Prize in Physics 1901

Wilhelm Roentgen Professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences


The Wilhelm Roentgen Professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences was named for the Nobel Prize-winning German physicist  Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, who discovered X-rays.  The chair was founded within the department and created as part of the department’s continuing efforts to bolster research and development and to fuel comprehensive advancements in the PET Center, which is in the division of Nuclear Medicine. 

Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen was the first scientist to observe and record X-rays, first finding them on November 8, 1895. He had been fiddling with a set of cathode ray instruments and was surprised to find a flickering image cast by his instruments separated from them by some distance. He knew that the image he saw was not being cast by the cathode rays (now known as beams of electrons) as they could not penetrate air for any significant distance. After some considerable investigation, he named the new rays "X" to indicate they were unknown. Further experiments revealed that this new type of ray was capable of passing through most substances, including the soft tissues of the body, but left bones and metals visible. One of his earliest photographic plates from his experiments was a film of his wife Bertha's hand, with her wedding ring clearly visible.
The discovery of X-rays, as well as their unique properties, electrified the general public.Few scientific breakthroughs have had as immediate an impact as Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen's discovery of X-rays, a momentous event that instantly revolutionized the fields of physics and medicine. The X-ray emerged from the laboratory and into widespread use in a startlingly brief leap: within a year of Roentgen's announcement of his discovery, the application of X-rays to diagnosis and therapy was an established part of the medical profession.
Roentgen was awarded the first Nobel Prize in physics in 1901 for his discovery. When asked what his thoughts were at the moment of discovery, he replied, true to form, "I didn't think, I investigated." Today, Roentgen is widely recognized as a brilliant experimentalist who never sought honors or financial profits for his research. He rejected a title that would have given him entry into the German nobility, and donated his Nobel Prize money to his university. While he accepted the honorary degree of doctor of medicine offered to him by his own university, he never took out any patents on X-rays, to ensure that the world could freely benefit from his work. His altruism came at considerable personal cost: at the time of his death in 1923, Roentgen was nearly bankrupt from the inflation following World War I.

2004 Inaugural Recipient of the Wilhelm Roentgen Professor of Radiology

Robert Kessler, M.D., was named the first Roentgen Professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences in 2004.  Dr. Kessler is a graduate of Yale University School of Medicine.  After medical school, he served as a Major in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. Prior to joining Vanderbilt in 1984, Kessler worked for the Nuclear Medicine Department of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. where he was the project officer and first director of the NIH PET program.

Dr. Kessler joined the department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences at Vanderbilt in 1984 and was responsible for the design and start-up of the Vanderbilt PET Center. His research interests are in the areas of cerebral neurotransmission and energy metabolism and their relationship to psychiatric and neurological disorders.
His most recent studies have examined the role of cortical and limbic dopamine receptors in schizophrenia and antipsychotic drug actions as well as validating new methods for measuring dopamine release in man.  The author or co-author of more than 120 scholarly and scientific publications, Kessler has contributed to many abstracts and has served or is currently serving as journal reviewer for several scholarly publications.
Kessler holds two patents — for “Driven Inversion Spin Echo Magnetic Resonance Imaging” and “Radioiodinated Benzamides and Methods of Their Use as Radioimaging Agents.”  He said he plans to study the role of cortical and limbic dopaminergic neurotransmission in attention deficit disorder, depression, psychostimulant drug abuse, and schizophrenia.
“We’re very fortunate to have someone of Dr. Kessler’s caliber, who is world-renowned in his field, to be leading in this endeavor,” Sandler said. “And, we’re very much appreciative of the support of Vice Chancellor Harry Jacobson and Dean Steve Gabbe.”
“I feel deeply honored that Vanderbilt would appoint me to this endowed chair,” said Kessler, who is an associate professor of Psychiatry and the director of Molecular Imaging. ”This is a great honor and I am grateful for this recognition.”

Kessler named to Roentgen radiology professorship (August 2004)

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