Hands-on Activity: You Be the Radiologist!

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

A radiologist examining X-rays from his patient.
Students act as radiologists
Copyright © Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/91/Radiologist_in_San_Diego_CA_2010.jpg/1280px-Radiologist_in_San_Diego_CA_2010.jpg


In addition to the associated lesson, this activity functions as a summative assessment for the Using Stress and Strain to Detect Cancer unit. In this activity, students create 1-D strain plots in Microsoft Excel® depicting the location of a breast tumor amidst healthy tissue. The results of this activity function as proof of the accuracy and reliability of students' breast cancer detection designs.

Engineering Connection

Biomedical engineers conducting cancer research have shifted their attention toward tumor classification since finding characteristics common to all types of malignant breast cancer increases the validity in cancer diagnosis. One characteristic that distinguishes breast cysts from cancerous tumors is a dense fibrous area surrounding the lesion. This occurs as the body attempts to ward off the malignant tumor. Benign tumors are found to be much softer. On a very basic level, in this activity, students apply this concept to Young's modulus of elasticity. In generating the strain graph, the malignant region is depicted with a much higher modulus of elasticity indicting a stiffer region with less deformation. This understanding is applied in the generation of the strain graph as well as the brochures generated as part of the associated lesson's assessment.

Educational Standards

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Pre-Req Knowledge

A complete understanding of Hooke's law, stress, strain and the associated relationships.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Model a tumor in normal tissue using a stress strain relationship.
  • Depict a tumor using a graph in excel.
  • Describe the advantages and disadvantages of this imaging technique.
  • Explain how breaking down the problem can lead to an achievable solution.

Materials List

Each student needs a copy of the attached handout (doc).


Today we will finally complete our unit and it will be your task to create an image depicting a tumor amidst healthy breast tissue. You will each receive a handout with an image which, after making the appropriate calculations, should be depicted in a graph generated in Microsoft Excel®. Please read the instructions on your assignment and ask any me any questions you may have. Today's assignment is worth 50 points, like your brochure. Together the two assignments are worth 100 points, equal to a test grade. Not to worry though! You all are more than prepared to create your challenge solution. Please clear everything from your desks and remember this is an individual assessment so please only look at your computer screen.


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

force: An influence on a body or system, producing a change in movement or in shape or other effects.

spring: An elastic body such as a wire of steel coiled spirally that recovers its shape after being compressed, bent, or stretched.

strain: Deformation of a body or structure as a result of an applied force beyond limit.

stress: The physical pressure, pull, or other force exerted on a system by another, producing a strain. Measured by the ratio of force to area.



This activity provides students with the first portion of the Go Public phase of the legacy cycle. Students create strain plots without any aids. They are graded on their solutions. This activity tests students on their comprehension of the material presented thus far, which includes the concepts of Hooke's law, stress, strain and biomedical imaging techniques.

With the Students

Hand out tp students the Show Me the Tumor! Handout. Explain that they may not use their notes or any other aids. This is an individual assessment, which along with the take-home portion, will count as a test grade.


Investigating Questions

  • What fundamental concepts does this method of cancer detection rely upon?
  • Is this method reliable?
  • Is this method of tumor detection cost effective?
  • Is this method reasonable for clinical use?
  • Are there any other methods to detect tumors in tissue? If so compare to the method used in this activity.


Activity Embedded Assessment: Grade on the accuracy of their graphs as well as their supporting calculations.


Dictionary.com. Lexico Publishing Group,LLC. Accessed December 28, 2008. (Source of vocabulary definitions, with some adaptation)


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.