WE-G-213-01: Roentgen and the Birth of Modern Medical Physics



Roentgen and the Birth of Modern Medical Physics – Perry Sprawls

Wilhelm Roentgen is well known for his discovery of x-radiation. What is less known and appreciated is his intensive research following the discovery to determine the characteristics of the “new kind of radiation” and demonstrate its great value for medical purposes. In this presentation we will imagine ourselves in Roentgen's mind and follow his thinking, including questions and doubts, as he designs and conducts a series of innovative experiments that provided the foundation for the rapid growth of medical physics.

Learning Objectives:

  • 1.Become familiar with the personal characteristics and work of Prof. Roentgen that establishes him as an inspiring model for the medical physics profession.
  • 2.Observe the thought process and experiments that determined and demonstrated the comprehensive characteristics of x-radiation.

The AAPM Award Eponyms: William D. Coolidge, Edith H. Quimby, and Marvin M.D. Williams - Who were they and what did they do? – Lawrence N. Rothenberg

William David Coolidge (1873–1975)

William Coolidge was born in Hudson, NY in 1873. He obtained his BS at the Massacusetts Institute of Technology in 1896. Coolidge then went to the University of Leipzig, Germany for graduate study with physicists Paul Drude and Gustave Wiedemann and received a Ph.D. in 1899. While in Germany he met Wilhelm Roentgen. Coolidge returned to the US to teach at MIT where he was associated with Arthur A. Noyes of the Chemistry Department, working on the electrical conductivity of aqueous solutions. Willis R. Whitney, under whom Coolidge had worked before going to Germany, became head of the newly formed General Electric Research Laboratory and he invited Coolidge to work with him. In 1905, Coolidge joined the staff of the GE laboratory and was associated with it for the remainder of his life. He developed ductile tungsten filaments to replace fragile carbon filaments as the material for electric light bulb filaments. Until that innovation light bulbs had a notoriously short life. He later incorporated the ductile tungsten as a filament material for a hot cathode, fully evacuated x-ray tube, first described in 1912, which allowed higher current and x-ray output, and greater reliability than had previously been possible. These “Coolidge x-ray tubes” were far superior to the cold cathode, partial pressure gas x-ray tubes that had been in use since Roentgen's discovery of x-rays in 1895. The Coolidge tube with incremental developments is now the key component for x-ray production in all of our modern x-ray imaging devices, such as CT scanners, interventional radiology systems, and mammography units. Coolidge was also involved in the development of sectional x-ray tubes for research and treatment that were initially designed to reach 800 kV. Additional improvements led to 1 MV and 2 MV devices.

In 1932 Coolidge became director of the General Electric Research Laboratory, and in 1940, was made Vice-President and Director of Research. In 1945 he retired and was named Director Emeritus of the laboratory.

Coolidge held 83 patents and was recognized for these and many other achievements by election to the National Academy of Engineers, a place in the Engineering Hall of Fame and the National Inventor's Hall of Fame. The AAPM's highest honor, the Coolidge Award, was named after him. He accepted Honorary Membership in the AAPM and was the first recipient of the AAPM Coolidge Award, which was presented to him in a special ceremony in Schenectady, NY in 1972 when he was 100 years old.

Edith Hinckley Quimby (1891–1982)

Edith Quimby was born in Rockford, IL in 1891. She graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA with a B.S. in 1913, and then obtained a masters degree from the University of California at Berkeley. Later in her career, after many significant achievements, Quimby was awarded honorary doctorates by Whitman College and Rutgers University. Edith Quimby was hired by Giacchino Failla as a radiation physicist at Memorial Hospital for Cancer in New York City. Failla had studied with Madame Curie and obtained his doctoral degree in her laboratory. After many groundbreaking medical physics studies from 1919 until 1942, they both moved to Columbia University. Dr. Quimby developed a widely employed dosimetry system for single plane implants with radium and radon seeds, and a dosimetry methodology for internal radionuclides. She was author of more than 75 scientific publications, and of significant textbooks including the first comprehensive physics textbook for radiologists “Physical Foundations of Radiology”, which was co-authored with Otto Glasser, Lauriston Taylor and James Weatherwax in the first edition, with Russell Morgan added for the second edition and Paul Goodwin for the fourth edition. With Sergei Feitelberg, M.D. she published two editions of “Radioactive Isotopes in Medicine and Biology: Basic Physics and Instrumentation”. Quimby became a renowned examiner for the American Board of Radiology when the third ABR examination, given in 1936, added physics. She served as President of the American Radium Society, received the RSNA Gold Medal, and also numerous prestigious awards given to women in science. Edith Quimby was a Charter Member of AAPM. The AAPM Lifetime Achievement Award was renamed the Edith H. Quimby Lifetime Achievement Award in her honor in 2011.

Marvin Martin Dixon Williams (1902–1981)

Marvin Williams was born in Walla Walla, WA in 1902, and attended the same college as Edith Quimby, graduating from Whitman College in 1926. He was greatly influenced to go into medical physics by her accomplishments. During his early career, Williams worked with James Weatherwax in Philadelphia while he was working toward an M.S. from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1931 Williams was awarded a Ph.D. in Biophysics from the University of Minnesota, with the work actually performed at the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of the University. While completing his Ph.D. studies, Marvin met Dr. Paul Hodges who had returned from the Peiping Union Medical College in Peiping (now Beijing), China. Hodges suggested that a physicist be sent to Peiping to install x-ray therapy equipment and a radon plant. Williams accepted the position and, in 1931, he and his wife Orpha left for China. Before going to China, Williams had spent time with the physics group at Memorial Hospital to learn about the operation of a radon plant. In China, he constructed the radon plant, employing 0.25 g of radium, and also installed the x-ray therapy unit. Williams and his wife returned to the US in 1935, and he accepted a research position at the Mayo Clinic. In 1950, he became Professor of Biophysics at Mayo, where he taught physics and biophysics until his retirement in 1967. Williams was also very active in the American Board of Radiology where, from 1944 through 1977, he examined over 3000 radiologists and 250 physicists. Marvin Williams was a Charter member of AAPM, served as the fourth President of AAPM in 1963, and was the fourth recipient the AAPM Coolidge Award in 1975.

The Marvin Williams Award was originally established as the highest award of the American College of Medical Physics. When various functions of the ACMP were absorbed into the AAPM in 2012, the Marvin M D Williams Professional Achievement Award became one of the AAPM's highest honors.

Learning Objectives:

  • 1.Become familiar with the persons in whose honor the three major AAPM Award are named
  • 2.Learn about the achievements and activities which influenced the AAPM to name these awards in their honor