Journey to Inner Space

Student Experiments in Biomedical Physics:  A Journey to Inner Space

This project seeks to introduce teaching laboratory experiments and material in the Physics Department intermediate and advanced laboratory curriculum, introducing students to an important application of physics: biomedical physics.

The Quick Wins program provides an opportunity to purchase in a timely fashion a multi-functional, multi-user, high-quality (but expensive) piece of apparatus (x-ray and mini-CT scanner) that would permit a rapid initiation and implementation of the program. The proposed addition to the Physics teaching laboratories will provide not only physics and engineering majors, but also the large base of LSA students interested in life sciences, with an opportunity to take a “journey to inner space”, i.e. using x-rays and other modalities to explore biological systems in detail using the latest technologies, including computer x-ray tomography (CT).

Students often can teach themselves (and their peers) better than any instructor, especially by doing hands-on, minds-on activities including challenging experimental work with high-grade state-of-the art teaching apparatus. In addition to implementing experiments utilizing the x-ray and CT units, we will coordinate this project with teaching apparatus and related experiments as part of on-going teaching-laboratory upgrades which lend themselves to biomedical-related experiments. These will introduce students to, for example, the radiobiological effects in DNA  (and implications for evolution and space travel), the use of ion beams in radiation oncology, and the use of radioactive sources in brachytherapy (as pioneered by Marie Curie).

In addition to providing UM undergraduate students with an introduction to Biomedical Physics, the project will also serve to introduce several Physics faculty to this important cross-disciplinary area of research.  The x-ray and CT apparatus and other apparatus, software, etc. to be developed are relatively portable and can also be used as demonstrations in the large Introductory Physics Interactive Lectures and the new Introductory Physics sequence which has recently been developed to target LSA life-science majors. This material also could then be used in the highly successful Michigan Math and Scholars HS summer program (MMSS) as an introduction to Biomedical Physics. The highly-popular Physics sessions in MMSS involve 20-40 top HS students / year, many as potential out-state applicants to UM who might otherwise attend Harvard, Stanford, etc.

Project Team:

Fred Becchetti, Professor of Physics, College of Literature, Science and the Arts
Thomas Schwarz, Assistant Professor of Physics, College of Literature, Science and the Arts
Christine Aidala, Assistant Professor of Physics, College of Literature, Science and the Arts
Ramon Torres-Isea, Director, Advanced Physics Lab, College of Literature, Science and the Arts