Feature Profile: Edith Quimby: First Woman Medical Physicist
By David J. Brenner, PhD, DSc
In the field of Radiotherapy, Edith Quimby joined the Center for Radiological Research in 1919, and stayed at Columbia's medical school until 1978. Quimby was the undoubtedly first woman Medical Physicist, worldwide. Radiotherapy was (and still is) given either via an external x-ray machine, or through implants of radioactive needles directly into the tumor. Her particular interest was in how and where to place the radioactive needles within the tumor for maximum therapeutic efficiency. The result was the "Quimby rules", a set of guidelines for exactly where to put the radium needles relative to one another, which were standardly used from the 1930s until the onset of computerized treatment planning in the 1980s.
Quimby was also a dedicated activist for the field of Medical Physics. In 1954, she became the first physicist president (and the first woman president!) of the American Radium Society, and she used her Presidential Speech that year to point out that while the UK had the British Hospital Physicists Association, no such Medical Physicist organization existed in the US. Very much because of her influence, the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) was founded in 1958.