International Day of Medical Physics

Poster for the International Day of Medical Physics.

Tomorrow is the International Day of Medical Physics! This year’s theme is the “Medical Physicist as a Health Professional.”

The second half of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology focuses on medical physics topics, such as ultrasound, radiation therapy, tomography, nuclear medicine, and magnetic resonance imaging. These concepts are central to the work of medical physicists in our hospitals. The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of how important health care professionals are. They are truly essential workers.

Nine years ago the International Organization for Medical Physics established this annual celebration of medical physics. The IOMP represents tens of thousands of medical physicists worldwide. It’s mission is to advance medical physics practice by “disseminating scientific and technical information, fostering the educational and professional development of medical physicists, and promoting the highest quality medical services for patients.” Below is a message from the President of the IOMP, Madan Rehani.

A message from Madan Rehani, President of the International Organization for Medical Physics.

How can you celebrate this special day? Tomorrow the German Cancer Research Center will host a series of live online lectures about medical physics aimed at a general audience. They will take place 3–5 PM their time, which would be 9–11 AM my time (Eastern Standard Time in the United States). You have to register to get the zoom link, but it’s free.

November 7 was chosen for the International Day of Medical Physics because it’s the birthday of Marie Curie. Below are excerpts from the Asimov’s Biographical Encyclopedia of Science & Technology entry about Curie. Enjoy!

Asimov’s Biographical Encyclopedia of Science & Technology.

CURIE, Marie Sklodowska (kyoo-ree’)

Polish-French chemist

Born: Warsaw, Poland, November 7, 1867

Died: Haute Savoie, France, July 4, 1934

Asimov begins by discussing Curie’s education.

Marie was unable to obtain any education past the high school level in repressed Poland. An older brother and sister had left for Paris in search of education and Marie worked to help meet their expenses and to save money for her own trip there, meanwhile teaching herself as best she could out of books. In 1891 her earnings had accumulated to the minimum necessary, and off she went to Paris where she entered the Sorbonne. She lived with the greatest frugality during this period (fainting with hunger in the classroom at one time), but when she graduated, it was at the top of the class….

He then describes the scientific discoveries that underlie Curie’s research

The discovery of X rays by Roentgen and of uranium radiations by A. H. Becquerel galvanized Marie Curie into activity. It was she who named the process whereby uranium gave off rays “radioactivity.” She studied the radiations given off by uranium and her reports coincided with those of Ernest Rutherford and Becquerel in showing that there were three different kinds of rays, alpha, beta, and gamma….

Later, he explains the Nobel Prize winning research Marie Curie performed with her husband Pierre.

At the physics school where the Curies worked there was an old wooden shed with a leaky roof, no floor, and very inadequate heat. The two obtained permission to work there and for four years (during which Marie Curie lost fifteen pounds) they carefully purified and repurified the tons of [uranium] ore into smaller and smaller samples of more and more intensely radioactive material… Marie’s burning determination kept the husband-and-wife team going in the face of mountainous difficulties. By 1902 they had succeeded in preparing a tenth of a gram of radium after several thousand crystallizations. Eventually, eight tons of pitchblende gave them a full gram of the [radium] salt

Asimov ends with Curie’s final years.

Her last decades were spent in the supervision of the Paris Institute of Radium. She had made no attempt to patent any part of the extraction process of radium and it remained in the glamorous forefront of the news for nearly a generation, thanks to its ability to stave off the inroads of cancer under the proper circumstances. But in the end Marie died of leukemia (a form of cancer of the leukocyte-forming cells of the body) caused by overexposure to radioactive radiation.

Marie Curie — Scientist.

Originally published at

Professor of Physics at Oakland University and coauthor of the textbook Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.