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Medical Physics Research

  1. Mar 30, 2013 #1
    I'm an undergrad studying physics now. I plan on applying to a medical physics M.S. program in the next few years. The program is in partnership with a hospital, and in the second year, I'll do a research project with a faculty member of the hospital.

    My question concerns what I should be doing now to best prepare to excel in the research. The hospital gives preferential treatment to top graduates of the M.S. program. I feel that the better my research project, the better chance I'll have of gaining a coveted residency position.

    Are there areas of research that hospitals focus on? And in those research areas, are there skills that will better prepare me to tackle the research (e.g. electrical engineering, programming, thorough understanding of quantum mechanics, etc.)
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 31, 2013 #2


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    Most medical physicists work in radiation oncology and so their interests will focus on delivery of radiation in a therapeutic context. That said, medical physics research can be quite varied. Some examples:
    - developing the next generation of radiation detectors
    - developing new imaging modalities, or improving old ones
    - support for clinical trials
    - testing the properties of a commercial product in a clinical environment
    - developing a new optimization algorithm
    - modeling biological responses to treatment
    - refining quality control processes

    Those are just some broad examples off the top of my head. In general, medical physics tends to be "applied" physics, so things I would try to fit into my curriculum would include:
    - learning to program (the specific language is not so important as programming itself)
    - learning MATLAB (particularly useful for image processing)
    - an image processing course
    - a senior lab course
    - mathematical methods
    - an electronics class (medical physicists may not actually "do" a lot of electronics, but they often have to work closely with or supervise electronics technologists so it pays to speak the language)
    - intro biology, chemistry, statistics, anatomy
    - senior E&M

    Of course most of that would tend to be covered in a typical undergraduate physics curriculum, but those are a set of courses that you would tend to "more frequently draw on" in a medical physics career than courses in, say, quantum mechanics or general relativity.
  4. Mar 31, 2013 #3
    Thanks for your input, Choppy!

    It seems clear that the more electrical engineering and programming understanding you have, the better. When you say senior E&M, do you mean at Griffiths level? Also, for statistics, is it necessary to take a biostatistics course over a calculus-based statistics course offered by the math department? Here's a description from the math department stat class:

    Theoretical basis and fundamental tools of probability and statistics. Probability spaces, properties of probability, distributions, expectations, some common distributions, and elementary limit theorems.
  5. Mar 31, 2013 #4


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    Yes. I would consider Griffiths a senior E&M course and Jackson a graduate level course. E&M can be extremely important if you have a research project that involves MRI or linac design.

    Necessary? No, not at all. I just mentioned that as it's something I would recommend based on my personal experience. Basically any statistics course is likely to help you because medical physicists can be involved in clinical trials, or be in a position to help review the literature of trials that have been done and procedures or processes within a clinic. To one extent the mathematical background you would get out of a typical undergraduate degree in physics - without a specific stats course - will give you the tools you need to function effectively, or at least figure out what you need as you go. But like anything else the more common language you share with the people you work with, the better. So if it works better for you to do the calculus-based course as opposed to the biostats one, I would say go for it.
  6. Apr 1, 2013 #5
    There is also Simulation by Monte Carlo, it's one of the powerful ways to calculate dose.
    There are many codes such MCNP, Geant4/Gate, EGS/Beam, Fluka ...
    Try to read about it, I guess it can help you
    Good luck anyway !!
  7. Apr 1, 2013 #6
    Good suggestion.

    Without a good understanding of the physics of radiation transport I think it would be difficult to self-study those particular packages, but having a working knowledge of monte carlo techniques would be great.

    My graduate research focused on some modeling with EGSnrc + MATLAB.
  8. Apr 1, 2013 #7
    You are right Eric !!
    Physics of radiation transport is so important in Monte Carlo simulation, and as you said, yes it maybe difficult the self-study of those particular packages, but difficult is more exciting form me :wink:

    Anyway wish you good luck with your graduate research project, I'm modeling accelerators using Gate and MCNP, I still a beginner with EGS and about MatLab, I use Mathematica instead.
    Again wish you good luck ^_^
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