About Medical Biophysics (part 2)

The last two core third-year courses in the Biophysics program at Western have been keeping me busy this semester, among other things. In the spirit of completeness, here’s an overview of what they’re about:

  1. Fundamentals of Digital imaging (3503): Another course split between 4 different professors, covering a very wide range of topics in medical imaging with an emphasis on general concepts that are applicable to many different imaging modalities.

    The first part of the course started with an overview of imaging science and how its role in medicine, including looking at SNR, contrast, and ROC curves. In particular, learning about ROC curves and other ways of quantifying imaging techniques was useful because they were translatable to other things like classifiers in machine learning. Fun fact: the ROC curve originated from the battlefields of World War II, where it was used to quantify enemy detection. Here’s one I generated for my research:

    ROC ROC curves of two different red blood cell focus measures

    After that, we learned about more about the actual image capture, and here there was some overlap with one of the sections in optics 3645 (in fact, the same prof taught this part). We learned a bit of the physics and engineering involved in CMOS and CCD sensors, and overall it wasn’t hard at all (I felt like we all lacked the physics background to go in-depth). However, the midterm for this section was really hard for some reason.

    The third section, which I’m currently in, is another overview of MATLAB (it really is used a lot in Biophysics!). I think our prof is doing a really good job with explaining the basics, and he’s focusing on image segmentation techniques which I think is really useful. From my own experience, the majority of my MATLAB usage has been to separate out features from an image, so it’s quite applicable.

    We haven’t started the last section yet, but as I understand it, we will be learning about how imaging is affected by our own perception (the eye as a camera, space perception, …). Not too sure yet.

  2. Oxygen Transport (3507): This course hasn’t been the most popular among my peers, and I think a large reason why is because of how silly it seems at times. I mean, why do we need to dedicate an entire course on the diffusion of oxygen? At a first glance, it really just seems like the professor is merely teaching the focus of his research, and not because it serves any educational purpose.

    The course itself focuses on modelling the diffusion of oxygen through different medium and in different geometry using differential equations and other mathematical tools. It’s a little math heavy, and that does turn some people off too. But apart from the actual content, I think it’s an important course because it teaches you how to approach problems in a systematic way (we are taught a “7 steps of problem solving”). While critics say that it’s a little ridiculous that we’re tested on these steps, I think that teaching a general problem solving framework is a really good idea, and applying this technique to mathematical modelling problems helps place the techniques into a biophysical context. Oxygen transport might not be very important to most people, but learning to develop models to describe biophysical phenomena is a useful skill and feels like a major theme in many of our third year courses (see transport systems, biomechanics, math transforms).

    However, as I do like math more than most in my program, your mileage will definitely vary with this course.

    Full disclosure: I have done research with the professor of 3507.

Final thoughts: From the last two posts, I hope anyone reading them has gotten a good feel of what Medical Biophyics at UWO is like. These are the mandatory courses for everyone in the program (apart from Optics), so I believe it to be quite representative of the program. I feel like while we explore a variety of different topics, one problem is that no single topic is studied at a deep level simply because most people in the program (myself included) lack the sufficient biology, math, physics, or engineering background. Medical biophysics as a field is really the result of many experts in vastly different fields coming together to solve medical problems, so it’s really hard to teach this discipline at an undergraduate level.

I feel that this program will definitely benefit people who are self-directed learners, those who seek to explore things they are interested in on their own. The different courses will definitely teach you to problem solve more than it will give you a rich knowledge of anything in particular (as opposed to modules like Physiology or Microbiology and Immunology). Whether or not that’s what you’re looking for is up to you.