Light propagation in the digital head phantom for virtual near infrared spectroscopy and imaging is calculated by diffusion theory. In theory, diffusion approximation is not valid in a low-scattering cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) layer around the brain. The optical path length and spatial sensitivity profile predicted by the finite element method based upon the diffusion theory are compared with those predicted by the Monte Carlo method to validate a practical implementation of diffusion approximation to light propagation in an adult head. The transport scattering coefficient of the CSF layer is varied from 0.01 to 1.0 mm-1 to evaluate the influence of that layer on the error caused by diffusion approximation. The error is practically ignored and the geometry of the brain surface such as the sulcus structure in the digital head phantom scarcely affects the error when the transport scattering coefficient of the CSF layer is greater than 0.3 mm-1.
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