Biophysics vs Medical Physics

Timmeur
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Biophysics vs Medical Physics

Postby Timmeur » Fri Aug 28, 2009 12:19 pm

I have kind of narrowed down my field choice to either biophysics or medical physics, but I am having a hard time distinguishing the two. From what I understand, biophysics is a lot of protein folding and a lot of other random modeling. Medical physics on the other hand seems to do a lot of work with MRI, etc. I am probably way off base, so I was looking for a little info if anyone had any to more correctly distinguish the two.

As far as my interests, I really like physiology, human physiology particularly. I have some infatuation with neuroscience, but I haven't read a lot about research in that field. I also enjoyed my genetics class. I have a minor in biology, but I really like the depth that physicist's go into their research. Also, I would prefer to do research in the medical field, but it seems like, from my understanding, medical physicists don't really focus in research. Sorry, its a lot to digest, and any info regarding schools and programs would be much appreciated. I go to a smaller liberal arts school in Missouri, and so we don't really have any professors that can give me any information.

Chris Owens

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grae313
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Re: Biophysics vs Medical Physics

Postby grae313 » Fri Aug 28, 2009 1:53 pm

There is a fair amount of information on medical physics in this forum. I did a search for you:

viewtopic.php?f=3&t=2466&hilit=+medical+physics+
viewtopic.php?f=3&t=2390&hilit=+medical+physics+
viewtopic.php?f=3&t=2385&hilit=+medical+physics+

etc, etc.. search.php?keywords=%22medical+physics%22&terms=all&author=&sc=1&sf=titleonly&sk=t&sd=d&sr=posts&st=0&ch=300&t=0&submit=Search

From what I've read, medical physicists are basically equipment and safety technicians for radiation machinery in hospitals, they design protocols for radiation procedures, and may be involved in the designing of new equipment.

From what you wrote, you should look into biophysics research. This is as diverse as the title "biophysics" is vague... I'm sure you can find research groups somewhere that match your interests. Start browsing the biophysics research group pages at various universities. Keep a running list of the groups that seem most interesting to you, and this should help you decide where to apply.

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twistor
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Re: Biophysics vs Medical Physics

Postby twistor » Fri Aug 28, 2009 5:21 pm

I think I can clarify a number of points.

Biophysics does deal a lot with molecules at the sub-cellular level. You might study how EM fields interact with living tissue, protein folding, diffusion/effusion/perfusion, interactions among molecules, etc. Medical physics deals primarily with the physics that governs medical imaging modalities and the physics that how radiation interacts with matter. The latter is applied clinically in the field of radiotherapy. Depending on your biology background you could do well in either. Most medical physics start their training with little to no biology background. I don't know if the same is true of biophysicists.

From what I've read, medical physicists are basically equipment and safety technicians for radiation machinery in hospitals, they design protocols for radiation procedures, and may be involved in the designing of new equipment.


Some medical physicists do perform these duties. However, a large portion of medical physicists are also employed in basic research. They look for ways to improve existing medical imaging technologies or to more accurately determine the dose distribution in radiotherapy patients. This might involve Monte Carlo simulations, phantom measurements, etc. If they are employed clinically in a research hospital it is likely that their duties will include research and publication in addition to their clinical duties. If you only receive a masters degree in medical physics it's likely you will be doing routine tasks like daily QC procedures on equipment, or assisting senior medical physicists. You probably will not spearhead research projects of your own. There is plenty of room in the field for both pure clinical and pure research oriented medical physicists.

Medical physicists are most assuredly NOT safety technicians, although they are often involved in the commissioning and QC of equipment. There are regular technicians that deal with the day to day operations of the equipment. Their knowledge goes above and beyond the basic operations needed to run the equipment. There is a large difference between knowing what button to push to take a picture and understanding the interactions that take place in the body and the detector to form the image, the noise properties of the image, the solid state properties of the detector material, and a whole range of other physics concepts that go into making a medical image. Same goes for radiation therapy.

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grae313
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Re: Biophysics vs Medical Physics

Postby grae313 » Fri Aug 28, 2009 5:33 pm

Thanks for clarifying, twistor.

I work in a biophysics lab and don't have a biology background. There are a lot of types of projects going on in the lab, however a lot of it involves using optical trapping to manipulate single biological molecules. We investigate the molecular motors that act inside the cell to transcribe genes, we try to determine their mechanisms, what forces and torques they can exert, etc. We also develop new tools for investigating biological molecules, and are also getting more into cell biology and epigenetics.

excel
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Re: Biophysics vs Medical Physics

Postby excel » Fri Aug 28, 2009 9:35 pm

Regarding your interest in medicine, a lot of biophysics research is directly relevant to drug discovery. For example, G protein coupled receptors, the target of ~50% drugs, are a major area of biophysics research. Most of biophysics research is done at molecular scale. There are many biophysics labs working on ,say, receptors directly relevant to the nervous system. As far as traditional neuroscience goes, there are several physicists working in this area-- both theoretical and experimental (usually laser imaging and such).

Overall, I suggest that you look into computational biology programs. You would get to do three rotations in these programs, and you can try out labs in biophysics, neuroscience, and general human physiology or systems biology.

If you want to look at research in imaging like MRI, be sure to look at biomedical engineering programs as well.

Timmeur
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Re: Biophysics vs Medical Physics

Postby Timmeur » Mon Aug 31, 2009 4:21 pm

Thanks everyone, this was a really big help. Biophysics does seem to fit my preferences better, so I'll have to look at schools with biophysics programs and see what they are more specifically working on. Grae313, your research sounds really interesting btw.




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