Learning about physics in radiotherapy

Join six pupils from Ullern Upper Secondary School to see how physics plays a crucial role in good cancer treatment.

 

A group of interested pupils pay close attention as Taran Paulsen Hellebust explains the recommended radiation dose for a patient with prostate cancer. On a big monitor, she shows how the dose administered by the radiotherapy machine should vary between organs, and what will happen if you increase the dosage or the radiation, or expand the radiation field.

The six upper secondary school pupils ask many good questions. This week, they are spending their school days at the Norwegian Radium Hospital’s Department of Medical Physics, where they are on work placement.

While looking at the screen, they are talking about grey which is a unit of measurement, just like metres and decilitres, for radiation.

All six pupils are studying maths and physics plus either chemistry or biology at Ullern Upper Secondary School, which is only a stone’s throw away from the hospital. Many of them are considering studying medicine, engineering or biotechnology after they graduate this spring. The pupils are Kristian Novsett Borgen, Aurora Opheim Sauar, Edvard Dybevold Hesle, Alexander Lu, Trym Overrein Lunde and Tuva Askmann Nærby.

 

Cooperation on radiation
The pupils get practical insight into topics they have barely touched on during physics lessons. They appreciate getting some insight into working life and seeing how a physicist works.

Hellebust explains how a team comprising a doctor, a radiation therapist and a physicist cooperate on planning a patient’s radiation treatment. If, like many others, you think of physicists as elderly men with unkempt hair running around with their heads full of abstract and incomprehensible formulas, your prejudice has hereby been refuted. The physicists who supervise the pupils and work with radiotherapy on a daily basis are young and know how to entertain their pupils.

 

From brachytherapy to radiotherapy machines
After the pupils have been given an introduction to brachytherapy, physicists Jørund Graadal Svestad and Live Furnes Øyen take them on a tour to see the radiotherapy machines in use in the radiotherapy building. Cancer patients sit in the corridors with family members and friends waiting for their turn, while Jørund explains to the students how the radiotherapy machine is used.

Inside the radiotherapy room, the Geiger counter that Jørund is carrying detects radiation.

‘But it’s a very small amount of radiation, not problematic in any way,’ he says.

The final stop before lunch is a room that could easily be mistaken for the set of the old Norwegian science TV series Fysikk på roterommet. Among other things, it contains an old radiotherapy machine and an old-fashioned ultrasound machine. The pupils have a look and fiddle around with the old machines. They get a chance to feel and see how today’s radiotherapy has developed by leaps and bounds within a relatively short space of time.

‘It’s been great fun and very educational and, not least, we’ve had an opportunity to learn from the experts,’ says one of the pupils.

 

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