It is not unusual for somebody in a gathering to ask me about why physics could be relevant in medicine. As a scientific discipline, I rate medicine as a new emerging field of study - most old style medical care/treatment depended on trial and error, and a particular treatment was used simply because it seemed to have worked in the past. There was little scientific basis behind medical practice until the 19th century.
All life has molecular basis. Laws of physics are the only way to study and predict the behaviour of molecules (chemistry was assimilated into physics in the first half of the 20th century!). It is not surprising that significant advances in medicine only happened in the past 100 years since the fundamental laws for describing matter were formulated. Physicists have played a central role in the development of medicine and many physicists have been awarded Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine to acknowledge this.
Physics has not only provided the theoretical basis for understanding how the living system works, it has also underpinned the way medical care is provided to the patient. Until the 20th century, there was little else a doctor could do to diagnose illnesses except to measure the temperature, pulse rate and general observation of the patient. There was no way to look inside the body without invasive surgery.
Thanks to physics, we can now study life processes in minute detail non-invasively and with the help of new research in nano- and digital- technologies, one feels optimistic that the very best medical care would be possible for the average patient in not too distant future.
I had the privilege of teaching a course on medical imaging in Glasgow University for over a decade. I translated the course for my ScienceforAll programme in 2008 and gave a series of public lectures for the non-specialists. I am publishing the power-point slides of the lectures with the idea that my subsequent blogs will update and explain the recent developments that are happening in the application of physical sciences in medical care.
The five lectures are as follows:
Medical Imaging - Introduction, X-rays
Medical Imaging - Computer Tomography (CT); Effect of Ionising Radiation
Medical Imaging - Ultrasound; On the Nature of Sound
Medical Imaging - Positron Emission Tomography (PET) with Case Studies
Medical Imaging - Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)