CBE—Life Sciences Education
Physics -- Study and teaching (Higher)
Undergraduate educational settings often struggle to provide students with authentic biologically or medically relevant situations and problems that simultaneously improve their understanding of physics. Through exercises and laboratory activities developed in an elective Physics in Biomedicine course for upper-level biology or pre–health majors at Portland State University, we aim to teach fundamental physical concepts, such as light absorption and emission and atomic energy levels, through analysis of biological systems and medical devices. The activities address the properties of electromagnetic waves as they relate to the interaction with biological tissue and make links between physics and biomedical applications such as microscopy or laser eye surgery.We report on the effect that engaging students in tasks with actual medical equipment has had on their conceptual understanding of light and spectroscopy. These initial assessments indicate that students’ understanding improves in some areas as a result of taking the course, but gains are not uniform and are relatively low for other topics.We also find a promising “nonshift” in student attitudes toward learning science as a result of taking the course. A long-term goal of this work is to develop these materials to the extent that they can eventually be imported into an introductory curriculum for life sciences majors.
Christensen, W., Johnson, J. K., Van Ness, G. R., Mylott, E., Dunlap, J. C., Anderson, E. A., & Widenhorn, R. (2013). Developing and assessing curriculum on the physics of medical instruments. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 12(2), 250-261.