Friday, January 25, 2008

More on "Medical Physics: the Perfect Intermediate Level Physics Class"

Nelson Christensen's article "Medical Physics: the Perfect Intermediate Level Physics Class" (European Journal of Physics, vol. 22, pp. 421-427, 2001) contained a section devoted to textbooks (see my Oct. 5 blog entry for more on Christensen's paper). He wrote:

"There are numerable good sources and books that one may draw upon for a course like this, however we found no text that covered all of the topics we wanted. Our class primarily used Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology (3rd edn) by Hobbie [1]. This book covers a wide array of topics, and has a large number of problems to draw from. The level of the text was, at times, too advanced for undergraduates, and more suitable to graduate students in biomedical engineering. The book also lacks detailed examinations of imaging techniques, especially ultrasound."

Well, the 4th edition contains a new chapter on Sound and Ultrasound. If Christensen liked the "large number of problems", he is going to love having 44% more problems in the latest edition. Is the book at times too advanced for undergraduates? The level didn't change much between the 3rd and 4th editions. We tried to aim the text toward upper level undergraduates. You will have to decide for yourself if we hit the mark.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Term Papers

My friend and the senior author of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology, Russ Hobbie, sent me this blog entry to share with you all:

One of the motivations for developing the course that led to this book is the huge gap between a general physics course and the research literature. Often when I was teaching this course, I had students write a term paper instead of a final exam. The term paper was to take a paper from the research literature and fill in the missing steps. Students selected a candidate research paper early in the term and gave it too me for approval. They could come to me as often as necessary for help understanding the research. The last week of the term they turned in both the research paper and term paper and scheduled a half-hour “oral exam” with me a couple of days later. They knew that I would ask them questions about anything I suspected they did not really understand. I had a grading algorithm that assigned points for the difficulty of the research paper, the clarity of the term paper, and my assessment of how well they understood the research based on the oral exam. I had a lot of informal visits by students the week before the term paper was due. Students seemed to learn a lot, and some of these papers became paragraphs or problems in later editions of our book.

Friday, January 11, 2008


When teaching Medical Physics at Oakland University, I have found an excellent way to expose students to current issues in the field: discuss "Point/Counterpoint" articles from the journal Medical Physics, published by the American Association of Physicists in Medicine. Each issue of Medical Physics contains one 3- or 4-page article discussing a fascinating but controversial claim. The format of each point/counterpoint article is a debate between two leading medical physicists (something like the old "60 minutes" TV show segment with the same title, parodied so hilariously on Saturday Night Live.) For instance, the January 2008 issue of Medical Physics debates if "Exposure limits for emergency responders should be the same as the prevailing limits for occupational radiation workers." My students seem to enjoy the lively style of these articles, and they have to learn enough medical physics to understand the science and vocabulary underlying the debate. I typically spend 15 minutes discussing one article every Friday afternoon. The point/counterpoint articles are a great way to augment our textbook, Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology, in a Medical Physics class.

Note added March 2, 2008: You can now download a publication titled Controversies in Medical Physics from that contains ten years of Point/Counterpoint articles.

Friday, January 4, 2008

More from the Preface

From the preface of the 3rd edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology, written by Russ Hobbie:

"This intended to serve as a text for an intermediate course taught in a physics department and taken by a variety of majors. Since its primary content is physics, I hope that physics faculty who might shy away from teaching a conventional biophysics course will consider teaching it. I also hope that research workers in biology and medicine will find it a useful reference to brush up on the physics they need or to find a few pointers to the current literature in a number of areas of biophysics. (The bibliography in each chapter is by no means exhaustive; however, the references should lead you quickly into a field.) The course offered at the University of Minnesota is taken by undergraduates in a number of majors who want to see more physics with biological applications and by graduate students in physics, biophysical sciences, biomedical engineering, physiology, and cell biology."