This project aims to satisfy the increasing need for medical physics course material that is accessible to undergraduate STEM and health science majors, and it links the teaching of physics to important applications in the medical field. The primary goal of this project is to develop educational material for medical applications in physics. The resulting materials are modular and can be used as a whole in a specialized "Physics in Medicine" course or in part for introductory physics classes. Six modules are being developed for important medical topics like electrocardiography, optical instruments, ultrasound imaging, laser eye surgery, radiation, and magnetic resonance imaging.

The outcome of this project results in worksheets for group discussions, medical physics laboratory exercises, homework assignments, in-class activities, use with existing computer-based physics simulations, and formative and summative assessments to evaluate students' understanding. The development of these teaching materials is being done in a collaboration of experts from the fields of physics and medicine to foster opportunities for students to apply interdisciplinary critical reasoning skills.

Student learning is being evaluated by utilizing both formative and summative pre and post assessments of skills, knowledge, and attitudes for each of the learning modules (6 assessments total). In collaboration with the PIs, the external evaluator is developing a student evaluation of the course which is used to make adjustments of the modules and to help judge their overall success in teaching this material. The advisory board. consisting of experts in medicine and physics. is providing further guidance on the soundness of the developed material. All course materials produced during the project are being disseminated to educators via the "Physics in Medicine" course website and commercial partners. Subsequently, reports on learning outcomes are being prepared for peer-reviewed journal articles and presentations at academic conferences.

Project Report

Making physics relevant for life science and pre-health students require authentic uses of physical principles in the biological or medical field. Currently, students often struggle to understand the practical relevance of physics to the future career. This project developed and assessed educational materials, providing a coherent connection between general physics and applied medical technologies. The development of the teaching material was done in collaboration of experts from the fields of physics and clinical medicine to foster opportunities for students to apply interdisciplinary critical reasoning skills. The interdisciplinary collection of experts promoted the generation of educational material for a physics course that are engaging to students and scientifically and medically sound. The expertise of the medical professionals and scientists is reflected in the teaching material and is designed to enable physics professors without a strong biomedical background to readily adopt the materials in their courses. All activities are inexpensive, easily set up, and transferable. Specifically, the project resulted in curriculum that includes worksheets for hands-on activities, discussions, and homework assignments on nine topics: Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Lasers, Lasik/Light Absorption, Kinesthetic Activities, Computed Tomography, Electrocardiogram (EKG), Pulse Oximetry, Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis, and Radiography/Planar Imaging. The later six activities required hardware design and are shown in the accompanied images. The Physics in Medicine course activities are designed to engage students in inquiry-based active learning to increase awareness of the physics behind the phenomena observed in modern medical technologies. In addition, problem-solving methodology provides opportunities to apply physical and mathematical reasoning skills. The educational materials are modular and can be used as a whole curriculum in a specialized Physics in Medicine course or in part as a supplement in introductory general physics. At Portland State University (PSU), all seven modules were used in the one-term Physics in Medicine course. The EKG and Pulse Oximetry modules have also been incorporated into the lab for the three-term algebra based general physics course. Throughout the project, student learning was evaluated by measuring their increase in factual knowledge by utilizing formative and summative assessments and evaluation strategies. Formative assessment was used to modify the curriculum iteratively with all but one module being refined at least two times after use in the classroom, resulting in improved instructional materials in subsequent implementations and validation of effectiveness. As a result of taking the Physics in Medicine course at PSU, the students did not experience a negative shift towards physics or physics learning in the Colorado learning attitudes about science survey. This is a stark contrast to most physics instruction where significant negative shifts were observed. Physics in Medicine was particularly effective in improving attitudes concerning content understanding, although students experienced a negative shift in certain areas. The project resulted in nine peer-reviewed publications describing individual modular activities or results of the Physics in Medicine course in journals like the European Journal of Physics, The Physics Teacher, the American Journal of Physics, Physics Education, and CBE Life Science Education. Thirty-two posters/talks (including invited talks at the annual winter meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) and the Gordon Research Conference on Physics Research & Education) were presented at national physics educational conferences. Undergraduate and graduate students who participated in the development and assessment of learning materials gave many of these presentations. Beyond professional meetings, we gave ten presentations reaching over 1000 students and adult learners at local schools and public venues in the Portland Metropolitan area. Additionally, Physics in Medicine students exhibited posters at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and the summer 2013 AAPT meeting. The impact of PSU’s pre-health and biomedical physics students has been significant. The educational material instructed over 2500 students at PSU. We received ten awards for the activities developed in collaboration with our biomedical experts from organizations such as the AAPT’s Apparatus Competition and the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) iCollaborative. Individual modules were presented at five AAPT workshops and we have actively assisted instructors at six other universities with the adoption of the curriculum. Activities developed during the funding period were popular with students and physics instructors alike, confirming the demand for more relevant physics education materials for pre-health and life science students. The group assembled during the project serves as a powerful foundation for further curriculum development. To foster this development, we successfully applied for funding through NSF’s IUSE program to develop medical physics multimedia modules. The infrastructure and knowledge base established in this project forms a wide network of collaborators in physics, education research and the biomedical community. This IUSE project will expand our efforts that will impact a larger number of students. The hands-on activities developed in this project will seamlessly integrate into the multimedia modules, enhancing their value further.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE)
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
Program Officer
Duncan E. McBride
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Portland State University
United States
Zip Code