Medical imaging refers to a number of techniques that can be used as non-invasive methods of looking inside the body. It can be used to assist diagnosis or treatment of various medical conditions.

Curriculum links

All sciences
3. Specification content
3.6 The skills, knowledge and understanding of How science works must include the requirements set out below, and must be integrated into the mandatory content indicated in the relevant appendix and any content added by the awarding body.
• Consider applications and implications of science and appreciate their associated benefits and risks.
1.5 Cells
c) In complex multicellular organisms cells are organised into tissues, tissues into organs and organs into systems.
1.6 Biological molecules
b) In living organisms nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, inorganic ions and water all have important roles and functions related to their properties.
2.11 Modern analytical techniques
a) The use of mass spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and chromatography in analysis, including techniques for the elucidation of structure.



3.5 Waves
Qualitative treatment of polarisation and diffraction, path difference, phase and coherence, graphical treatment of superposition and standing waves


Scottish Curriculum

Human Biology Higher Potentially relevant to modules: Physiology and Health (reproduction and the cardiovascular system. post-natal screening, relevant tissues and circulation and the pathology of cardiovascular disease)
Physics Higher Potentially relevant to modules: Particles and Waves (sub-atomic physics and waves)



Why is medical imaging important?

What is medical imaging?

Medical imaging refers to a number of techniques that can be used as non-invasive methods of looking inside the body. This means the body does not have to be opened up surgically for medical practitioners to look at various organs and areas. It can be used to assist diagnosis or treatment of different medical conditions.

Imaging techniques use radiations that form part of the electromagnetic spectrum. It's easy to forget that visible light (that is the colours that we as humans can see) forms only a fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum.


In the above graph, the first bar is a key to the electromagnetic radiations that either, do or don't penetrate the earth's atmosphere. (Y is for yes and N is for no.)  Next, the wavelengths are expressed in terms of metres and are compared to sizes found in everyday life. Credit: NASA.

Exploiting other types of radiation in the electromagnetic spectrum allows us to see further than our eyes allow us to using only visible light. The most familiar of these other types are x-rays, which are often used to show if a bone is broken. X-rays, however, are not very useful for looking at other tissues and the radiation can also be harmful to certain areas of the body. Other techniques have been developed that allow different tissues and metabolic functions to be "seen" using different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Why is medical imaging important?

In an ideal world we would be able to diagnose, treat and cure patients without causing any harmful side effects. The use of medical imaging has enabled doctors to see inside a patient without having to cut them open. Medical imaging also helps us learn more about neurobiology and human behaviours. For example this news report from 2008 highlights a meeting where brain imaging is being used to understand why some people become long-term cocaine addicts and some do not. Medical imaging brings scientists from biology, chemistry and physics together and the technologies developed can often be used in many disciplines.