National Physical Laboratory

Twenty six years' work in one month

NPL's computer network has enabled scientists to make an unprecedented number of calculations to ensure the accuracy of radiation doses experienced by patients undergoing life-saving radiotherapy treatment.

Computer network cables

Radiotherapy cancer treatments require very accurate measurements. If too high a dose is given, then the radiation may harm the patient; if too low a dose is given, the cancer may continue to grow. At NPL, hundreds of desktop PCs have been combined together in a grid, so that complex calculations needed to calculate how radiation measurement devices respond to a radiotherapy beam (including the way the beam is changed by the presence of the measurement device) may be performed much more quickly.

The particular calculations performed needed an accuracy of about 0.2%. Conventionally, using just one fast PC, this would have taken weeks for each individual calculation, and many years for the complete set of calculations required. However at NPL, the combined power of the PCs in the Grid meant that a full 26 years' worth of calculations - actually the age of the MSc student who was working on the problem - were performed in just one month.

This shows the importance of the NPL grid to these detailed calculations, many more of which will be needed over the coming months and years as new measurement devices, and improved life-saving cancer treatments, are developed.

For further information, contact Mark Bailey

Find out more about NPL's research on Radiation Dosimetry modelling

Last Updated: 10 Jan 2013
Created: 17 Sep 2010