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Indiana University Bloomington
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PHYS-P 478/578 Radiation Biophysics

Credit hours: 3

Course Description
The National Cancer Institute has identified formal training on the effects of ionizing radiation at the cellular/molecular, tissue, and organismal level as a national priority. This course provides an introduction to radiation biology and biophysics within the context of cancer biology, radiation oncology, radiology, radiation protection, public health, and medical physics. The topics of radiation-induced acute and late effects in normal tissue and tumors, apoptosis, cell cycle checkpoints, DNA repair, tumor kinetics, chemical modifiers of response, radiobiological basis of radiation therapy, radiation effects in the embryo and fetus, and carcinogenesis are discussed.


  • none


  • M211 Calculus I (or S211 or M215)
  • P221 Introductory Physics I (or P201)
  • P222 Introductory Physics II (or P202)

Course Objectives
Upon completion of this course the student will be able to:

  • Describe cellular anatomy and physiology and identify components and functions relevant to biological radiation response
  • Describe the stages of the cell cycle, the impact of radiation on the cell cycle and the effect of the cell cycle on radiation response
  • Describe the cellular signal transduction radiation response
  • Identify the fast (physical) and slow (chemical) effects of radiation in the cell’s nuclear environment
  • List the several DNA repair pathways and describe the physiochemical characteristics of each mechanism
  • Describe the characteristics of various types of DNA and chromosomal radiation damage
  • Explain the linear quadratic and MTSH cell survival models and apply them to cellular systems, functional endpoints (e.g. experimental tumor systems) and fractionation schemes
  • Describe the effects of dose and dose rate as they relate to in vitro, in situ and in vivo systems
  • List the modes of cell death and describe mitotic death, apoptosis, necrosis, and anoikis
  • Describe the oxygen effect (OER) and suggest methods for circumventing the effect
  • Calculate the relative biological effectiveness (RBE) for various biological systems and radiation qualities
  • Use the stopping power (S) formulae to calculate linear energy transfer (LET) and describe the relationship between LET and RBE
  • List several chemical modifiers of the radiation response
  • Understand and calculate radiation kinetics for cell systems, tissue systems and tumors
  • Describe the radiobiological basis of radiotherapy
  • Understand carcinogenesis and heritable effects and the dose/dose rate dependence of these
  • Identify the stages of and severity of radiation exposure
  • Describe the relationships between DNA damage, mutation and carcinogenesis, and the impact of oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes

Required and Recommended Textbooks

  • Required: 
    • Radiation Biophysics, Edward L. Alpen
  • Recommended: 
    • Radiobiology for the Radiologist, Eric J. Hall and Amato Giaccia, 6th Edition
    • The Biology of Cancer, Robert A. Weinberg;
    • The Basic Science of Oncology, 4th Edition, Ian F. Tannock, Richard P. Hill, Robert G. Bristow, Lea Harrington;
    • Molecular Biology of the Cell, 4th Edition, Bruce Alberts, Alexander Johnson, Julian Lewis, Martin Raff, Keith Roberts, Peter Walter;
    • Basic Clinical Radiobiology, G. Gordon Steel (editor);
    • Introduction to Radiobiology, Maurice Tubiana, Jean Dutreix, Andre Wambersie.

A homework assignment will normally be assigned every 2 weeks.


3 exams will be given during the semester, each equally weighted.    The exam content will include a combination of any or all of the following: true/false, matching, multiple choice, calculation and problem solving.

PHYS-P 478 requirements compared with PHYS-P 578 requirements.
Students taking this course at the graduate level (P578) will be required to present a review of a recently published article relevant to one of the topics listed.