Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering


MPHY0001: Introduction to Medical Imaging

Module information

Unit value: 0.5
Year of study: 1
Term: 2
Course organiser: Professor Jem Hebden

Second examiner: Professor Gary Royle


This module forms a fundamental component of the UCL Medical Physics undergraduate degrees. It provides an introduction to all the major medical imaging techniques commonly encountered in hospital departments of radiology and nuclear medicine. The module will be a foundation for the further pursuit of knowledge of theoretical and practical aspects of medical imaging which are dealt with in greater detail in the following years of the Medical Physics degree programmes. 

Aims and Objectives

The aim of this course is to enable students to develop a basic familiarity with all the major medical imaging techniques employed in modern hospitals, including x-ray imaging, computer tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound, nuclear isotope imaging, and electroencephalography. Each technique will be introduced in the context of the underlying clinical requirements. Students need to learn what physical principles are involved, and what properties of tissues the corresponding medical images show. The module will aim to develop an understanding of the historical evolution of these imaging methods, as well as indicate how medical imaging is likely to develop over the next few years.

Teaching and exams

Teaching will consist of:

  • Lectures, 26 hours.
  • Seminars/problem classes, 4-8 hours.
  • Required written work (3 problem sheets).
  • Private reading, 54 hours.

The assessment will consist of:

  • 1 Unseen written examination (2.5 hours) worth 80% of the total course mark.
  • 3 Written coursework assignments completed during term-time worth 20% of the total course mark.


We assume that you have met the minimum entry requirements for our undergraduate degree programmes (i.e. A level Mathematics (grade A preferred), Physics and one other A level at ABB or above, or equivalent).

Specific knowledge assumed

Mathematics: Familiarity with manipulation of equations, basic calculus, exponentials. Ability to sketch graphs.

Physics: Basic physics knowledge consistent with a grade A or B pass at A level.

Engineering: None

Biology: None.

Other: None.


The basic physical and engineering principles behind major medical imaging techniques will be described, and their relative advantages and disadvantages will be explored. The capabilities of the imaging techniques will be explained in terms of performance criteria such as spatial and temporal resolution, contrast, and signal-to-noise-ratio. The effectiveness of the methods will be illustrated in terms of their clinical applications. An historical perspective of the development of each technique will be presented, as well as the latest innovations. Finally, potentially new and emerging medical imaging technqiues will be considered. 

    Brief Syllabus

    1. Introduction to imaging. What is a medical image and how does one type of image differ from another?
    2. Medical imaging before x-rays. Hippocratic thermography; dissection; laproscopy.
    3. X-radiography. From its discovery by Roentgen in 1895 through its development to modern diagnostic and therapeutic techniques.
    4. Computed tomography. Section tomography, the development of scanner design and image reconstruction algorithms.
    5. Ultrasound. Sonar and other early applications of acoustics. Basic principles of ultrasound imaging. Evolution of ultrasound technology and clinical applications.
    6. Magnetic resonance imaging. Early use of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy in 1940s. Principles of NMR and MRI. Evolution of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology and clinical applications. The development and applications of functional MRI.
    7. Nuclear imaging. Discovery of radioactivity. History of single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and positron emission tomography (PET) imaging techniques.
    8. Electromagnetic imaging techniques. Electroencephalography (EEG), magnetoencephalography (MEG) and electrical impedance tomography (EIT).
    9. Other imaging techniques. A summary of past and present efforts to develop new imaging techniques using other forms of electromagnetic radiation, e.g. thermography, microwaves, optical imaging, photoacoustic imaging.

    Core Text

    • Webb's Physics of Medical Imaging. M. A. Flower (Editor) CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, 2012. ISBN: 978-0-7503-0573-0.