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Medical Physics


Pulse oximeters
1. The LEDs used in pulse oximeters emit two wavelengths of light
(a) What does LED stand for?
(b) What is the symbol for an LED?
(c) What colour are the two wavelengths of light and what are their respective
(d) Why does a pulse oximeter appear to only give off one colour of light?

2. The absorption of visible light for a sample of blood is shown below.

(a) Indicate the colour of the following wavelengths on the graph

(b) Which wavelength of light does the sample absorb most?
(c) Use the graph to explain why blood appears red
3. The pulse rate is determined by monitoring how the signal transmitted through a
patient’s finger varies over time
(a) Why does the signal vary over time?
(b) How is the blood oxygen saturation worked out from the signal?
4. Oxygen is transported around our body by haemoglobin in red blood cells. A red
blood cell contains 270 million molecules of haemoglobin and each molecule can
carry up to 4 oxygen atoms.
(a) Draw a rough graph of haemoglobin saturation versus pO2 in mmHg,
indicating the % saturation at the pO2 in a) the lungs and b) the tissues
(b) What is the maximum number of oxygen atoms that a red blood cell can
(c) In 83% saturated blood, approximately how many oxygen atoms are there in
each red blood cell?
Medical Physics


Ultrasound scans
1. In order to produce an ultrasound scan, like the one shown below, a probe and gel
are used.

(a) Why is the gel used?

(b) In the diagram above the part of the probe that produces the ultrasound
waves is labelled X. What does X contain, and how does it work?
(c) Explain why ultrasound is safe for foetal imaging.

2. A doctor use 5000 kHz ultrasound waves to scan a foetus.

(a) Why can humans not hear these waves?

(b) Ultrasound waves are longitudinal. What is a longitudinal wave? The other
types of waves are transverse waves. Give an example of a transverse wave.
(c) What is the time period for a 5000 kHz wave?

3. Dolphins also scan using ultrasound. A dolphin hears an echo from a fish 0.02
seconds after it makes a noise (speed of sound in water is 1500 m/s)

(a) How far has the ultrasound wave travelled?

(b) How far away is the fish?
(c) If the dolphin swims closer to a distance of 9 m from the fish, how long will it
take to hear the echo?
(d) Other than medical imaging, give one other example of scanning using
Medical Physics


X-ray imaging
1. The image below is a radiograph produced using a digital detector.

(a) Complete the following statement about the digital detector.

Parts of the digital detector that are exposed to X-rays appear __________
and unexposed areas appear _________

(b) Suggest three advantages of using a digital detector over a photographic film

2. X-rays are electromagnetic waves that have a shorter wavelength than visible light.

(a) Give one other difference between X-rays and light, enabling X-rays to provide
an internal image of the body.
(b) Explain how X-rays are produced in vacuum tubes.
(c) Which part of the electromagnetic spectrum has a shorter wavelength than X-
rays, and what is the difference between the two?

3 The effective dose can be measured in milli-Sieverts (mSv), or expressed as the

time taken to receive the equivalent dose from background radiation. Doses for
chest scans are shown below.

Dose (mSv) Equivalent background radiation dose

Chest radiograph 0.02 3.5 days

Chest CT scan 6.6 3.1 years

(a) Explain why high doses of X-ray radiation can be dangerous.

(b) Despite the higher risks to the patient, why are CT scans sometimes used instead of
(c) Name a source of natural background radiation.
(d) A CT scan of the head has an effective dose of 1.4 mSv. Use information from the
table to work out the equivalent background radiation dose for a head CT scan.
Medical Physics


1. The diagram below shows the heart.


(a) Which chamber of the heart is labelled with the letter B?

(b) Which letter represents the SA node?
(c) What does the SA node do?

2. Below is an electrocardiogram (ECG) of a patient.

0 0.4 0.8 1.2 1.6 2.0 time(s)

(a) Time is plotted on the horizontal axis. Which quantity is plotted on the
vertical axis?
(b) Use the ECG to work out the average time period of the heartbeat. Show
your working.
(c) Work out the heart-rate in beats per minute
(d) A doctor viewing the ECG is concerned that the person may have a heart
problem. Explain why the doctor is concerned
Medical Physics


Gamma Camera
1. Doctors inject gamma-ray emitting radiotracers to check whether a patient’s body is
functioning properly.

(a) Why are alpha emitting radioactive isotopes not used as radiotracers?

(b) Which of the following would be suitable for use as a radiotracer?

Carbon-14 5730 years
Cobalt- 57 271 days
Iodine-123 13 hours
Lead-207m 0.8 seconds

(c) Explain your answer to part (b). Consider the consequences of a short versus a
long half life.

2. Technicium-99m is a radiotracer with a half-life of 6 hours.

(a) What is meant by a ‘half-life’? Draw a rough graph of the half life of
technetium-99m, starting with an activity of 4 000 Bequerels
(b) A 120 mg sample of Technetium-99m is prepared. How much of it will remain
after 24 hours?

3. Technetium-99m is produced from the radioactive decay of Molybdenum (Mo). A

beta particle ( is emitted is the process.

(a) What is a beta-particle?

(b) In the above equation, how many neutrons does the Molybdenum isotope
(c) Complete the equation by adding the missing number for Technetium.
Medical Physics


Positron emission tomography

1. Different isotopes of fluorine are shown below.
Isotope Stability
Fluorine-18 Unstable, beta plus decay
Fluorine-19 Stable,
Fluorine-20 Unstable, beta minus decay
(a) What is an isotope?
(b) Why is fluorine useful for making a radiotracer?
(c) The isotope used in PET is flourine-18. Explain why the other isotopes of
fluorine listed above are not suitable for PET.

2. The radioactive isotope carbon-11 used in PET is produced by firing high speed
protons at nitrogen atoms.
(a) Why do the protons need to be travelling at high speed?
(b) How are protons accelerated up to high speeds?
(c) The nuclear reaction for the production of carbon-11 is shown below. Suggest
what the particle (X) emitted in this process is.

3. The diagram below shows a slice of lemon in a (very small) PET scanner.
One of the pips in the lemon is radioactive and is emitting positrons. Detectors
shaded with the same shade of grey show pairs of gamma rays detected at the same

(a) Which one of the pips is radioactive?

(b) How are these gamma rays created after a positron is emitted?
(c) Why do the gamma rays travel in opposite directions?

4. Name two clinical and two research applications of PET

Medical Physics


Magnetic resonance imaging

1. An electromagnet is shown below.

(a) Give two ways in which the electromagnet shown above can be changed to
increase its strength.
(b) When viewed from X the current flows clockwise. Is the pole labelled X a
north or south pole?
(c) Why is the electromagnet in an MRI scanner cooled?
(d) In an MRI scan, what does the electromagnet do to the patient’s body?

2. An MRI scanner uses radio waves with a wavelength of 5 m.

(a) The speed of radio waves is 300,000 km/s. What is the frequency of the radio
(b) Compared to X-rays, what is the advantage of using radio-waves for medical
(c) How are radio waves produced?
(d) What are radio waves used to do in MRI?

3. Explain how the signal used to make an MRI image is generated.

4. List two other applications of magnetic resonance.