Healthcare Technology Featured Article

May 21, 2012

Safer Cancer Treatment and Better Wi-Fi Service Together? Someday, Scientists Say



What would you call something that could make cancer treatments safer and make you no longer need a password for your Wi-Fi? Science fiction.

Not.

A physicist has developed an algorithm that can make cancer treatments less harmful as well as increase Wi-Fi security, the New Scientist reports, as disclosed by Ina Damm Muri at smallplanet.com.

It sounds simple enough. But hear it through. According to Damm Muri, Carolyn Phillips, a physicist at the University of Michigan in Ann Harbor, and her colleagues have studied something they call the “filling” problem, “which essentially is a mathematical version of coloring in a shape using different sized blots of paint,” Damm Muri writes.

Mathematicians have long studied the packing problem, which involves finding the best way to fit a set of shapes inside of a larger object to avoid waste, according to Damm Muri. Then there is the covering problem, where smaller shapes completely cover a larger shape.

What does this have to do with cancer, and Wi-Fi?

We’re getting to that.

Phillips started investigating the filling problem when she was trying to model the behavior of a type of a nano-particle, a particle smaller than a grain of salt often used in cancer research. “Physicists are used to thinking about simple hard objects that can’t overlap, while problems of covering have been traditionally more the domain for mathematicians,” she told Damm Muri. “Now there are nanoscale structures that can be modeled as overlapping spheres.”

Damm Muri reports that Phillips and her team began their study by finding the target object’s “topological skeleton... a representation of the object being filled as a series of lines running through its center. The topological skeleton of a triangle compromises three lines that meet at a triple branching point. More complicated shapes can have several of these branching points.”

The team then went on to place the center of the first circle at one of the branching points in the skeleton, trying to fill in as large an area as possible, then the smaller circles, until the entire shape is filled, according to Damm Muri.

Still all Greek to you? Me, too. But Damm Muri writes that figuring out how to fill a space using the minimum number of circles could have real world applications – from helping radiologists use the minimum number of variously sized radiation beams to treat all areas of a tumor to assist in designing an office Wi-Fi network that would use the smallest possible antennas to ensure that the signal does not extend beyond the walls of a building, providing so much security a password is no longer needed.

For a pretty long time we’ve been hearing how electronic magnetic fields and wireless technology could possibly cause cancer. The jury is still out. But isn’t it much nicer to think one may be able to help the other? Perhaps, in time, they will.




Edited by Rich Steeves




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