Friday, August 18, 2017

Tenth Anniversary of this Blog About Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology

This week marks the tenth anniversary of this blog dedicated to the textbook Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology. I posted the first entry on Tuesday, August 21, 2007. Soon, I started posting weekly on Friday mornings, and I have been doing so now for ten years.

The blog began shortly after the publication of the 4th edition of IPMB, and continued through the 5th edition. Although the initial posts were brief, they soon become longer essays. If you look at the blog website under “labels” you will find several generic types of posts, such as book reviews, obituaries, and new homework problems. My personal favorites are called…er…"personal favorites." These include Trivial Pursuit IPMB (a great game for a hot August night with nothing to do), Strat-O-Matic Baseball (because I love to write about myself), Physics of Phoxhounds (I’m a dog lover), The Amazing World of Auger Electrons (I think my cannon-ball/double-canister artillery analogy is clever), My Ideal Bookshelf (which provided the cover picture for the IPMB’s Facebook page), Aliasing (containing a lame joke based on The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), IPMB Tourist (to help with your vacation plans), The leibniz (a quixotic attempt by John Wikswo and me to introduce a new unit equal to a mole of differential equations), The Rest of the Story (Paul Harvey!), and Myopia (because I love that quote from Mornings on Horseback).

I want this blog to be useful to instructors and students using IPMB in their classes. Although I sometimes drift off topic, they all are my target audience. If you look at posts labeled “Useful for Instructors” you’ll find tips about teaching at the intersection of physics and biology. Instructors should also visit the book’s website, which includes useful information such as the errata and downloadable game cards for Trivial Pursuit IPMB. Instructors can email Russ Hobbie or me about getting a copy of the IPMB solution manual (sorry students; we send it to instructors only).

How much longer will I keep writing the blog? I don’t know, but I don’t expect to stop any time soon. I enjoy it, and I suspect the blog is helpful for instructors and students. I know the blog has only a handful of readers, but their quality more than makes up for the quantity.

Enjoy!

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Eclipse

On August 21, I’ll be viewing the total eclipse from a location just north of Kansas City. I’ve never seen a total eclipse, and probably never will again (well, maybe in 2024). I have relatives in the Kansas City area, so I don’t have to fight for a hotel room (Thanks, sis!). I already bought my ten-pack of eclipse glasses. The last challenge is the weather: clouds could ruin the experience. Let’s hope for clear sky!

The internet has much information about how to view the eclipse safely. It is one of those topics where physics and medicine collide. In Chapter 14 of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology, Russ Hobbie and I discuss the eye and vision. I won’t nag you about all the safety precautions. You can learn about them here.

How intense is the light reaching the retina when you stare at the sun? The intensity of sunlight at the earth’s surface is about 1 kW/m2, or 1 mW/mm2. The radius of the pupil is about 1 mm, and its area is approximately 3 mm2. Therefore, about 3 mW impinges on the retina. To calculate the size of the image spot, treat the eye as a lens (Fig. 14.39a in IPMB). The earth-sun distance is 1.5 × 108 km, the sun radius is 7 × 105 km, and the pupil-retina distance is about 22 mm, implying that the radius of the sun’s image on the retina is (22 mm)(7 × 105)/(1.5 × 108) = 0.1 mm, for an area of about 0.03 mm2. The intensity on the retina is thus 3 mW/.03 mm2, or 100 mW/mm2. This intensity will do damage.

Incidentally, if a 0.5 mW HeNe laser beam is directed into the eye and is focused to a spot with a radius of 0.04 mm, the intensity will be about the same as staring at the sun. Therefore, be as careful when playing with lasers as you are when viewing the eclipse. Both can be unsafe if you are careless.

The light from the sun is about one million times as intense as the light from a full moon. The light from the sun’s corona, visible during a total eclipse, is about as bright as the full moon. So, when the eclipse is 99.99%, the sun is still one hundred times as bright as the moon. It is only when the eclipse is total that you can gaze at it safely. That's why I’m not going to Lawrence, Kansas—home of my alma mater the University of Kansas—for the event; there the eclipse is only 99.3% complete. (Vanderbilt, where I obtained my doctorate, is in the path of totality. My PhD advisor John Wikswo can watch it from his back yard!) We will drive for an hour (perhaps more, if traffic is snarled) to where the eclipse is total.

If you want to learn more, I suggest the Resource Letter OSE-1: Observing Solar Eclipses, written Jay Pasachoff and Andrew Fraknoi, and published by my favorite journal: The American Journal of Physics (Volume 85, Pages 485-494, July, 2017).

Enjoy!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Machines In Our Hearts

In Chapter 7 of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology, Russ Hobbie and I discuss pacemakers and defibrillators. When introducing this topic, we cite Kirk Jeffrey’s book Machines In Our Hearts: The Cardiac Pacemaker, the Implantable Defibrillator, and American Health Care. The book not only gives a great introduction to these medical devices, but also examines the medical device industry. In his introduction, Jeffrey writes
“This book gives an account of the invention of the cardiac pacemaker and the subsequent development and transformation of this machine….The pacemaker was born in 1952 as an appliance the size of a breadbox that stood on a hospital cart and plugged into a wall socket. As it grew, it shrank. Within a few years, medical researchers and engineers had transformed it into a little device that was completely implanted within the patient’s body with one component actually threaded down a vein into the heart’s interior. Today we have a number of implanted machines, such as defibrillators and nerve stimulators, that manage some physiological function, but the pacemaker was the very first of these. Surgeons carried out the earliest implants in human beings between 1958 and 1960.

Pacemakers (or pacers) in the 1990s are no larger than wristwatches with one or two leads instead of a wristband. In the early days of implantable pacers, the devices were thicker and heavier than an old pocket watch; people in fact sometimes called them “heart tickers.” But a pacemaker today can do far more than send little ticks of electricity to the heart. Most pacers implanted in the 1990s coordinate the pumping action of the upper and lower chambers (the atria and ventricles) and change their rate depending on the patient’s activity level. Some can intervene to slow down a dangerously fast heartbeat. We live in ‘the age of the smart machine’; this phrase certainly applies to the newer pacers, for they include microprocessors and have become, in effect, computers…Once implanted, a pacemaker can be reprogrammed, its behavior completely reconfigured. In the near future, these tiny machines may be smart enough to diagnose the patient’s heart-rhythm problems and choose how to respond by themselves, without the doctor’s needing to intervene at all….

This book shifts its focus midway from the physicians and engineers who invented cardiac pacing and created a technological community to the manufacturing firms that have the greatest degree of control over the technology today. The manufacturers supplemented research physicians as the prime directors of technological change during the 1970s. The upshot is that when it comes to cardiac pacing and defibrillation, doctors are in effect working in alliance with large corporations in determining how best to treat patients.”
Anyone interested in working in the medical device industry in general, and in designing new pacemakers and defibrillators in particular, should read Machines In Our Hearts. It is a case study of how physics can be applied to medicine and biology.