Friday, January 27, 2012

The Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology Tourist

Over the Christmas break I was browsing through the Guidebook for the Scientific Traveler: Visiting Physics and Chemistry Sites Across America, and it got me to wondering what sites a reader of the 4th edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology might want to visit. Apparently having too much time on my hands, I devised a trip through the United States for our readers. (Perhaps I’ll prepare an international edition later.) The trip starts and ends in Rochester, Michigan, where I work, but the path consists of a large circle and you can begin anywhere. I have not visited all these places, but I know enough about them to suspect you would enjoy them all. Tell me if I have forgotten any important sites. Happy travels!

Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. OU is home to Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology (IPMB) coauthor Brad Roth, in the Department of Physics. Here Roth collaborated with Russ Hobbie to prepare the 4th edition of IPMB.

The University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois. The elementary charge (the magnitude of the charge of an electron, mentioned in IPMB in Chapter 3 and many times later) was first measured accurately by Robert Millikan at the University of Chicago using his famous oil drop experiment. The American Physical Society has an initiative to present commemorative plaques at important sites in the history of physics. Be sure to visit the Millikan plaque. You can see the original equipment used by Millikan at Chicago’s wonderful Museum of Science and Industry. Chapter 1 of IPMB cites the book Powers of Ten by Phillip and Phylis Morrison and the office of C. & R. Eames. The book is centered on a couple picnicking in Chicago, near Soldier Field and the Shedd Aquarium. Be sure to stop there, with your copy of Powers of Ten in hand.

Morrison, Illinois. Robert Millikan was born in Morrison, and a downtown park in this small town about 120 miles west of Chicago bears his name (although there is no sign or marker to indicate it). IPMB coauthor Brad Roth grew up in Morrison.

University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. IPMB’s author Russ Hobbie worked at the University of Minnesota for years, and remains an emeritus faculty member in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Stop by a visit him in nearby Saint Paul. While in Minneapolis, be sure to visit the Bakken Museum, perhaps the only museum in the country dedicated entirely to electricity and magnetism, and especially bioelectricity and biomagnetism, as discussed in Chapters 6-9 of IPMB. Earl Bakken was one of the founders of the medical device company Medtronic. Stop by at Medtronic's nearby Mounds View Bakken Education Center.

University of California Berkeley, in Berkeley, California. The cyclotron, crucial for nuclear medicine (see Chapter 17 of IPMB), was invented by Ernest Lawrence at UC Berkeley. See the APS plaque commemorating this invention. Material from a cyclotron in Lawrence’s lab led to the discovery of technetium, an element with no stable isotopes that is widely used in nuclear medicine imaging and is discussed at length in Chapter 17 of IPMB. While in the San Francisco area, visit Stanford University where Felix Bloch performed his pioneering experiments in nuclear magnetic resonance (Chapter 18, IPMB), and where Mark Denny has his Biomechanics Laboratory (Denny’s book Air and Water is cited often in IPMB). Don’t forget to visit the Exploratorium.

California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, California. Carl Anderson discovered positrons while working at CalTech (see the APS plaque for Anderson's discovery). Positrons are used in positron emission tomography (PET) imaging (Chapter 17, IPMB). Also from Cal Tech in Richard Feynman, whose Lectures on Physics are cited in IPMB.

Washington University in St Louis, in St Louis, Missouri. Arthur Compton performed his groundbreaking experiments on Compton Scattering (Chapter 15, IPMB) at Washington University. See the APS plaque commemorating his work. Their biomedical engineering department now is home to many leading researchers in cardiac electrophysiology, including post doc Debbie Janks, a reader and often a commenter on the IPMB facebook group and blog.

Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tennessee. IPMB coauthor Brad Roth attended graduate school at Vanderbilt, working with John Wikswo in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. There, they measured the magnetic field of a single nerve axon, as described in Chapter 8 of IPMB. IPMB author Russ Hobbie was a Visiting Professor at Vanderbilt in 1999. Max Delbruck, an early biological physicist who contributed to our understanding of genetics, performed many of his Nobel Prize winning experiments at Vanderbilt.

Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina. Duke’s Department of Biomedical Engineering has been the home of many leaders in bioelectricity and cardiac electrophysiology, including Robert Plonsey, whose books are often cited often in IPMB. The Duke Biology Department is home to Steven Vogel, author of Life in Moving Fluids, another book cited in IPMB. Be sure to find the statue of former Duke physiologist Knut Schmidt-Nielsen studying a camel, which graces the Duke campus.

National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Maryland. No tour of biomedical facilities in the United States would be complete without stopping at the NIH campus in Bethesda. Be sure to visit the Stetton Museum of Medical Research in Building 10: the Warren Grant Magnuson Clinical Center. Stop by Building 13 and see where IPMB coauthor Brad Roth worked on transcranial magnetic stimulation (IPMB, Chapter 8) and where his friend Peter Basser invented MRI Diffusion Tensor Imaging (IPMB, Chapter 18) (Peter’s office is still there; stop by and say hi). You could spend a week visiting all the historic medical research sites in the Washington DC area.

Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut. Visit Yale and walk the path of the early American physicist Josiah Williard Gibbs, whose work on chemical thermodynamics is discussed in Chapter 3 of IPMB, including the Gibbs Free Energy. See the APS plaque commemorating Gibbs’ work.

Framingham, Massachusetts. Visit the town that contributed more to uncovering the diseases of the heart than any other, through the Framingham Heart Study. Framingham is one of the few locations mentioned explicitly in IPMB, in Chapter 2.

Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Edward Purcell performed his early experiments on nuclear magnetic resonance at Harvard, which resulted in the Nobel Prize. He is also author of a beloved paper cited in IPMB, Life at Low Reynolds Number. Visit the site of the Harvard cyclotron, where IPMB author Russ Hobbie was a graduate student, and where Allan Cormack worked on the mathematical methods underlying computed tomography (IPMB, Chapter 16). Visit the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology Museum, containing a collection of artifacts related to science and technology (IPMB author Russ Hobbie obtained his undergraduate degree from MIT). While near Boston, visit the Museum of Science, especially their Theater of Electricity.

Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratories, in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. At Woods Hole, Kenneth Cole developed the voltage clamp method (Chapter 6, IPMB), which played an important role in the discovery of how nerves conduct action potentials. Stop by the Visitors Center and take a tour.

Oakland University, in Rochester Michigan. Back to the starting point. Be sure to stop by Brad Roth’s office (166 Hannah Hall) and see his collection of all four editions of IPMB sitting on his bookshelf.


  1. Love It, Love It, Love It! I would add Yoram Rudy, Igor Efimov, Jianmin Cui, Colin Nichol's, Richard Schuessler, and so Many others to the list currently at Washington University. Raymond Ideker, Stephen Knisley, Natalia Trayanova, Neils Otani, Blanca Rodriguez, Tom Ohara, Jose Jalife, Guy Salama, Emilia Entcheva.. just So Many others currently doing interesting, exciting, ground breaking work in the field specific to cardiac electrophysiology. Expanding this to include all fields in medicine where physicists play an important role, you have volumes of names/work to touch upon. Walk into any hospital today and ask where physics is put to work. You won't have far to look.

  2. For my money, give me, The Bell Laboratories, (Murray Hill New Jersey and environs); and with that, a respectable portfolio of accomplishment which includes The Transistor, The Laser, The Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation and many dot dot dots.