This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you agree to our use of cookies. To find out more, see our Privacy and Cookies policy.
Skip to the content

Share this

Free weekly newswire

Sign up to receive all our latest news direct to your inbox.

Physics on film

100 Second Science Your scientific questions answered simply by specialists in less than 100 seconds.

Watch now

Bright Recruits

At all stages of your career – whether you're an undergraduate, graduate, researcher or industry professional – can help find the job for you.

Find your perfect job

Physics connect

Are you looking for a supplier? Physics Connect lists thousands of scientific companies, businesses, non-profit organizations, institutions and experts worldwide.

Start your search today


Medical scanning demystified

Diffusion MRI scan of the brain

Diffusion MRI scan reveals the connections in the brain. (Courtesy: NIH/The Human Connectome Project)

By James Dacey

Many of you reading this will have experienced (or at least known somebody else who has experienced) a medical scan of some type. Even if you have a background in physics, these procedures can seem mysterious and even slightly menacing, not helped by the clinical designs of the equipment and some of the sounds they make. A new series of online courses offered by an academic collaboration in Scotland has been designed to demystify the world of medical-imaging techniques by presenting the science and technology in non-technical ways.

The courses include introductions to ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET), and computerized tomography (CT). “The material was designed for non-specialists with an interest in science who might want to understand a bit more about medical imaging: school teachers, pupils, patients, relatives of patients,” says Dave Wyper, director of the Scottish Imaging Network: A Platform for Scientific Excellence (SINAPSE).

SINAPSE is a consortium of six Scottish universities: Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews and Stirling. The group specializes in medical imaging, and about 50% of its members are medical physicists. To develop these courses, SINAPSE teamed up with eCom Scotland, a specialist in online learning.  In an e-mail exchange with Wyper, I learned that the courses – which can be accessed worldwide – present medical imaging in simple terms with the aid of basic graphics. Currently, each course costs just under £10 though the pricing is under review and courses may become free of charge in the future.

These medical-imaging courses are an interesting example of a recent development in education known as massive open online courses, or MOOCs for short. Despite their slightly silly name, MOOCs have the potential to transform online learning by widening global access to education. These are usually short courses mixing online teaching with assignments such as problem sets and extended projects. While the concept of online private study has been around for as long as the Web, the novelty with MOOCs is that these courses are freely available and the providers take full advantage of the latest Web technology, such as online video and interactive virtual labs.

You can learn more in a feature I wrote about the rise of MOOCs that appears in the March issue of Physics World, which is a special issue on education and is available as a free PDF download. I also produced this short film about a new initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in which MOOCs technologies are being incorporated into the traditional undergraduate physics programme. Take a look at that to discover what the students make of this new form of blended learning.

This entry was posted in General and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Comments are closed.


  • Comments should be relevant to the article and not be used to promote your own work, products or services.
  • Please keep your comments brief (we recommend a maximum of 250 words).
  • We reserve the right to remove excessively long, inappropriate or offensive entries.

Show/hide formatting guidelines

Tag Description Example Output
<a> Hyperlink <a href="">google</a> google
<abbr> Abbreviation <abbr title="World Health Organisation" >WHO</abbr> WHO
<acronym> Acronym <acronym title="as soon as possible">ASAP</acronym> ASAP
<b> Bold <b>Some text</b> Some text
<blockquote> Quoted from another source <blockquote cite="">IOP</blockquote>
<cite> Cite <cite>Diagram 1</cite> Diagram 1
<del> Deleted text From this line<del datetime="2012-12-17"> this text was deleted</del> From this line this text was deleted
<em> Emphasized text In this line<em> this text was emphasised</em> In this line this text was emphasised
<i> Italic <i>Some text</i> Some text
<q> Quotation WWF goal is to build a future <q cite="">
where people live in harmony with nature and animals</q>
WWF goal is to build a future
where people live in harmony with nature and animals
<strike> Strike text <strike>Some text</strike> Some text
<strong> Stronger emphasis of text <strong>Some text</strong> Some text