Biomedical physics (also known as medical physics) is a branch of physics concerned with the application of physics principles, theories, and experimental methods into the modern practice and research of medicine. Many people confuse biomedical physics with biophysics. Biophysics includes applications of physics principles, theories and experimental methods to understand all forms of life at all scales from molecular structures to complex organs such as the human brain and large biological systems (i.e. the biosphere). Therefore, biophysics is concerned with gaining fundamental knowledge about life and all its manifestations using physics, while biomedical physics is mostly concerned with medical applications of physics. There are obvious overlaps and also the field of medical biophysics. A closely related field is health physics which is concerned with the ionizing radiation protection of the public and at-risk workers.
Biomedical physics in clinical settings is traditionally divided in two areas: (1) diagnostic or imaging and (2) therapeutic applications. Diagnostic applications include: all x-ray imaging modalities, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nuclear medicine (also known as molecular imaging), and ultrasound. Therapeutic applications are mostly concerned with the treatment of cancer using ionizing radiation which fall under the area of radiation therapy (or radiotherapy). Other medical applications of Physics include: radiobiology (study of the ionizing radiation interactions with the living cells), laser surgeries and ablation, optical imaging modalities, x-ray fluorescence (XRF) methods measuring trace elemental concentrations and distributions in the human body, electrocardiography (ECG or EKG) and electroencephalography (EEG) (measurements of the electrical activity of the heart and brain, respectively), and thermography (measurements of infrared radiation emitted by the human body). The list can be expanded to include biomedical physics research in which various microscopy techniques, laser spectroscopy, and dedicated small animal imaging modalities (used in the first stages of testing new drugs), are routinely used.
In today’s clinical settings, hybrid imaging and therapeutic modalities performed by complex equipment dominate the current trends in modern medicine. In combination with the developments in other areas of medicine, the latest medical physics developments led to buzz terms such as precision medicine or personalized medicine. In the modern clinical environment, the medical physicist working alongside the other medical experts such as radiologists, oncologists, nurses, and technologists, brings a unique perspective. He/she understands the fundamental principles, methodologies, limitations, and safety margins of the medical equipment used in the diagnostic or cancer treatment. Board-certified medical physicists are highly-educated (MS or PhD) and specialized clinical personnel. They are trained to periodically test the performance of clinical equipment, identify existing or potential problems, and develop viable solutions.
Biomedical Physics Program
Our undergraduate biomedical physics program was initiated over 10 years ago by Dr. Amir Huda with the financial support of a training grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The main goal of the program was to prepare our graduates to enter into the very competitive graduate programs (MS or PhD) in medical physics. Graduate school (at least at the MS level) and medical physics residency (imaging or therapy) are required by the American Board of Radiology (ABR) that certifies most of the medical physicists in the United States. About half of our past graduates successfully sought other opportunities in related careers such Radiation Safety Officer (RSO) or Nuclear Medicine Technologist. Starting in the junior year, the program includes courses which prepare the student with the fundamental physics knowledge and experimental methods broadly used across all medical physics specialties. Our program is currently supported by two physics faculty members (Dr. Amir Huda and Dr. Mihai Gherase) and three adjunct faculty members who are certified practicing medical physicists in the Fresno-Clovis area: Drs. Richard Dunia, Gopi Solaiappan, and Georg Weidlich. Our Seminar in biomedical physics course (Physics 155) includes invited talks from our adjunct faculty, former students, and research or practicing medical physicists. Thus, students find out first-hand about clinical Medical Physics and related careers, graduate school experiences, medical physics residency system, various career-paths, etc. The course also offers the opportunity to learn about subfields of medical physics not covered in our formal course curriculum.
Our program has the distinct advantage of small class size, a dedicated and recently updated classroom, individual academic and career advising, and hands-on laboratory and clinical equipment experiences. Our students also have research opportunities in the area of medical and biological x-ray fluorescence (XRF) under the supervision of Dr. Mihai Gherase in his microbeam lab located in the Science 2 building. Hands-on experience with the linear accelerator (LINAC) at the local Fresno Cancer Centre under the guidance of Dr. Rick Dunia is also a possibility for students interested in the radiation therapy area. In the past, our graduates also had career-changing summer research internship opportunities at clinical centers in California or across the country. More recently, research opportunities for undergraduate students in experimental biophysics, are also available at the nearby University of California, Merced.