September 21, 2023

Collaborative NSF IUSE grant supports Introductory Biomedical Imaging

Dr. Bethe Scalettar, Professor of Physics, and collaborator Dr. Ralph Widenhorn at Portland State University have secured $400,000 in competitive funding from the National Science Foundation in support of their project, “Collaborative Research: Integrating Imaging Physics into Undergraduate STEM Education”. Dr. Scalettar will lead the project with a $280,000 grant to Lewis & Clark; $120,000 was awarded to PSU. This project is being supported by an Engaged Student Learning grant from NSF’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) program, which “supports projects to improve STEM teaching and learning for undergraduate students….” This project directly addresses this NSF goal and will enhance student engagement, learning, and retention in STEM by developing, testing, and disseminating a well-integrated set of simulation-driven learning modules focused on four prominent medical imaging techniques and their foundations in science. The research team will also study the efficacy of the learning modules, and integrate them into open-source and widely available online learning platforms.

This innovative project is a direct outgrowth of Dr. Scalettar’s previous research and curriculum development work over the past several years. This was in part initiated by the College’s first Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant in 2008, which included support for the development of a course uniting physics and the life sciences. With HHMI support, the physics department debuted “Biomedical Imaging,” an upper-level science course that (now) covers optical microscopy, several prominent medical imaging modalities, and digital image processing and analysis. The course is accessible to most students majoring in STEM fields, and now has the highest enrollment of the College’s upper-level physics courses. Based on this course, together with her collaborator James Abney, Dr. Scalettar wrote a novel undergraduate textbook, Introductory Biomedical Imaging: Principles and Practice from Microscopy to MRI. This textbook was tested for several years at LC and was published in September 2022 by Taylor and Francis.

Three years of NSF support will allow Drs. Scalettar and Widenhorn to build on this earlier work, and similar research done by Widenhorn, and lead the development, evaluation, and dissemination of inquiry-driven teaching simulations and related teaching materials. Specifically, the multidisciplinary team, including seven Lewis & Clark and three PSU undergraduates, will create biomedical imaging lab activities to be used in undergraduate courses around the country in conjunction with Scalettar and Abney’s Biomedical Imaging textbook. These interactive, inquiry-driven teaching simulations will cover medical imaging and its foundations in science, and will be organized into four modules: ultrasound, radiography, nuclear imaging, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The team has found that medical imaging is founded heavily on ideas and approaches from many branches of physics, chemistry, and biology, and is of broad interest. Additionally, this interdisciplinary work, and its real-life significance, has the potential to promote interest in science and increase scientific literacy. Materials will be distributed for broad use by educators and the public through the Living Physics Portal, Moodle, and Canvas.

Dr. Scalettar’s related research has been previously supported by multiple grants from the National Institutes of Health.

September 2023