Hands-on Activity: Learning Imaging Techniques!

Contributed by: VU Bioengineering RET Program, School of Engineering, Vanderbilt University

A mammogram image showing a tumor. Provided by Vanderbilt University Radiology Department.
Mammogram image depicting a tumor.
Copyright © Vanderbilt University Radiology Department. Used with permission.


During this activity, students are introduced to the concepts of the unit's "grand challenge." They generate ideas for solving the problem, first independently, then in small groups. Finally, as a class, students compile their ideas with a visual as a learning supplement.

Engineering Connection

This activity presents students with a need in society and asks them to consider a method for finding a solution, also known as the engineering design process. As engineers, students must first identify the need for a painless, yet reliable method for detecting cancerous tumors; then, students will define the challenges which must be considered in the design. In the next phase, research will begin but before researching, students must identify the information they will need to acquire through their research. Engineers of all types constantly follow the engineering design process, with the first and most crucial steps being identifying the need in society. Like engineers, students must learn to apply their peripheral knowledge to solve the identified need. In questions 1-4 of the Generate Ideas section of the handout, students must identify a need in society and consider how it can be fulfilled.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

Suggest an alignment not listed above

Pre-Req Knowledge

A basic understanding of biomedical imaging techniques.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  1. Apply their background knowledge to begin solving the challenge.
  2. Identify gaps in their knowledge needed to solve the challenge.

Materials List

Each student needs a copy of the Grand Challenge: Detecting Breast Cancer Handout.


Do you know any engineers? Do you know what exactly engineers do? Do engineers invent things? Or do they adapt things? Today, we are going to think like engineers and we will grow familiar with the engineering design process. We have already been presented with our challenge question, and now it is time to be the engineers we know we can be. I will pass out a handout which will be your guide to thinking like a biomedical engineer. Please answer the questions first on your own. Soon, we will reconvene in small groups to share our thoughts. Then as a class, we will generate a few lists on the board. Please keep your mind open and do your best to consider anything and everything that may apply to the engineering challenge. You may add to your initial notes once we begin working in groups!


cancer: A malignant and invasive growth or tumor tending to recur after removal and to metastasize to other sites.

ultrasound Imaging: The application of ultrasonic waves to therapy or diagnostics, as in deep-heat treatment of a joint or imaging of internal structures.



This activity introduces students to the material they will soon learn in an exciting, unique manner. Students begin generating ideas on the challenge question and contribute to class discussion in an engaging manner.

Before the Activity

Make copies of the Grand Challenge: Detecting Breast Cancer Handout, one per student.

With the Students

  1. Describe the challenge to the students.
  2. Ask students to take notes on their handout individually for a few minutes.
  3. Then assign small groups and have students share their thoughts with each other.
  4. Finally ask students from each group to volunteer their thoughts.
  5. Compile their suggestions on the board to provide a visual.
  6. Generate a list of a few knowledge areas on which the students should focus. Categorize the concepts they have suggested into the knowledge areas.


Investigating Questions

  • What types of imaging would be a candidate for detecting breast cancer?
  • What do you know about cancerous tissue and how it differs from healthy tissue?
  • Can you think of any other means of graphing or depicting the data that an ultrasound captures?
  • What will you need to learn in order to devise a painless technique for identifying malignant tumors?


Activity Embedded Assessment: Formulate students' daily participation grade considering their individual contributions while the class compiles its ideas and thoughts.

Activity Extensions

If students show an interest in the various imaging techniques, ask a professor of biomedical engineering from a local university to deliver a presentation on biomedical imaging to the class.

Activity Scaling

  • For lower grades, provide more time for group discussions.
  • For upper grades, ask further investigating questions with respect to other means of graphing the data received from the ultrasound.


Dictionary.com. Lexico Publishing Group,LLC. Accessed December 28, 2008. (Source of vocabulary definitions, with some adaptation)
American Cancer Society. (2005) Breast Cancer Facts and Figures 2005-2006. Atlanta: American Cancer Society, Inc.
Papas, Mia A., Klassen Ann C. (2005) Pain and Discomfort Associated with Mammography among Urban Low-Income African-American Women [Electronic version]. Journal of Community Health, 30, 253 – 267.


Luke Diamond ; Meghan Murphy


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2007 Vanderbilt University

Supporting Program

VU Bioengineering RET Program, School of Engineering, Vanderbilt University


The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under National Science Foundation RET grant nos. 0338092 and 0742871. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.