Health physics is the science concerned with the recognition, evaluation, and control of health hazards to permit the safe use and application of ionizing radiation. Health physics professionals promote excellence in the science and practice of radiation protection and safety (www.hps.org). Health physicists principally work at facilities where radionuclides or ionizing radiation 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-specialties in the field of health physics, including
- Nuclear instrumentation and measurements
- Internal dosimetry and external dosimetry
- Radioactive waste management
- Radioactive contamination, decontamination and decommissioning
- Radiological engineering (shielding, holdup, etc.)
- Environmental assessment, radiation monitoring and radon evaluation
- Operational radiation protection/health physics
- Particle accelerator physics
- Radiological emergency response/planning - (e.g., Nuclear Emergency Support Team)
- Industrial uses of radioactive material
- Medical health physics
- Public information and communication involving radioactive materials
- Biological effects/radiation biology
- Radiation standards
- Radiation risk analysis
- Nuclear power
- Radioactive materials and homeland security
- Radiation protection
The field of medical physics 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 health physicists and 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, 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 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.'"<p> </BLOCKQUOTE>
- The Health Physics Society is a scientific and professional organization whose members specialize in occupational and environmental radiation safety.
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