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is a field of science concerned with radiation physics and radiation biology with the goal of providing technical information and proper techniques regarding the safe use of ionizing radiation. Health physicists principally work at facilities where radionuclide
A radionuclide is an atom with an unstable nucleus, which is a nucleus characterized by excess energy available to be imparted either to a newly created radiation particle within the nucleus or to an atomic electron. The radionuclide, in this process, undergoes radioactive decay, and emits gamma...
s or ionizing radiation
Ionizing radiation is radiation composed of particles that individually have sufficient energy to remove an electron from an atom or molecule. This ionization produces free radicals, which are atoms or molecules containing unpaired electrons...
are used or produced such as medical institutions, government laboratories, academic and research institutions, nuclear power plants, regulatory agencies and manufacturing plants. There are many sub-specialities in the field of health physics, including
- Nuclear instrumentation and measurements
- Internal dosimetry
Internal dosimetry provides methods for calculation of radiation dose and risks from radionuclides incorporated inside human body. The Radionuclide deposited in human body will irradiate that person and will give dose to body until excreted or completely decayed from the body.Routes of intakeThere...
and external dosimetry
Radiation dosimetry is the measurement and calculation of the absorbed dose in matter and tissue resulting from the exposure to indirect and direct ionizing radiation...
- Radioactive waste
Radioactive wastes are wastes that contain radioactive material. Radioactive wastes are usually by-products of nuclear power generation and other applications of nuclear fission or nuclear technology, such as research and medicine...
- Radioactive contamination
Radioactive contamination, also called radiological contamination, is radioactive substances on surfaces, or within solids, liquids or gases , where their presence is unintended or undesirable, or the process giving rise to their presence in such places...
- Radiological engineering
Engineering is the discipline, art, skill and profession of acquiring and applying scientific, mathematical, economic, social, and practical knowledge, in order to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes that safely realize improvements to the lives of...
(shielding, holdup, etc.)
- Environmental assessment
- Operational radiation protection
- Particle accelerator
A particle accelerator is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams. An ordinary CRT television set is a simple form of accelerator. There are two basic types: electrostatic and oscillating field accelerators.In...
- Radiological emergency response - (e.g., Nuclear Emergency Support Team
The Nuclear Emergency Support Team is a team of scientists, technicians, and engineers operating under the United States Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration...
- Industrial uses of radioactive material
The field of medical physics
Medical physics is the application of physics to medicine. It generally concerns physics as applied to medical imaging and radiotherapy, although a medical physicist may also work in many other areas of healthcare...
is similar to that of health physics since practitioners rely on the same fundamental science (i.e., radiation physics, biology, etc.). Health physicists, however, focus on the evaluation and protection of human health from radiation, whereas medical physicists use radiation and other physics-based technologies for the diagnosis and treatment of disease.
History of the term "Health Physics"
According to Paul Frame :
"The term Health Physics is believed to have originated in the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago in 1942, but the exact origin is unknown. The term was possibly coined by Robert Stone or Arthur Compton
Arthur Holly Compton was an American physicist and Nobel laureate in physics for his discovery of the Compton effect. He served as Chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis from 1945 to 1953.-Early years:...
, since Stone was the head of the Health Division and Arthur Compton was the head of the Metallurgical Laboratory. The first task of the Health Physics Section was to design shielding for reactor CP-1 that Enrico Fermi
Enrico Fermi was an Italian-born, naturalized American physicist particularly known for his work on the development of the first nuclear reactor, Chicago Pile-1, and for his contributions to the development of quantum theory, nuclear and particle physics, and statistical mechanics...
was constructing, so the original HPs were mostly physicists trying to solve health-related problems. The explanation given by Robert Stone was that '...the term Health Physics has been used on the Plutonium Project to define that field in which physical methods are used to determine the existence of hazards to the health of personnel.'
A variation was given by Raymond Finkle, a Health Division employee during this time frame. 'The coinage at first merely denoted the physics section of the Health Division... the name also served security: 'radiation protection' might arouse unwelcome interest; 'health physics' conveyed nothing.'"
- The Health Physics Society is a scientific and professional organization whose members specialize in occupational and environmental radiation safety.