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Offline Marlin

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Health Physicists
« on: Aug 17, 2005, 08:59 »
Below are exerpts from an interview of Dr. Morgan one of the original Health Physicists. At the bottom is a link to his history/bio/interview.
Chosen for the New Field of Health Physics (1943)
MORGAN: After my preliminary clearance, I walked into Compton's office, and Dr. Sterns and others were there. Sterns said, "Well, Karl, you'll be in the Health Physics Group." I was very much shocked and started toward the door. I said, "This is a terrible mistake: I've never even heard of health physics." Sterns said, "Hold on, Karl, we'd never heard of it ourselves till a few weeks ago. We have a very difficult problem: We are going to have intense sources of radiation and we believe that it's a problem of physics, primarily, to protect people from this radiation.  
YUFFEE: How did you go about determining what exposure would be safe during your year6 with the MED in Chicago?
MORGAN: Well, I don't know whether we ever determined that it was safe. [I try to address this question in The Angry Genie, a book I'm writing]. We determined what we considered acceptable. During the first months of my stay in Chicago, there were five of us: E.O. Wollan, the head of the group; Herbert Parker, an Englishman who had been working with Simeon Cantrill in Seattle; Carl Gamertsfelder, 7 a young doctoral student from Washington University [in St. Louis]; myself; and a little later, Jim Hart, a DuPont chemist. There were others that joined the group for short periods of time, but these five were the ones that lasted at least until we got to Oak Ridge [Clinton Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee].

Well, how did we determine the [nature of our] problem? We read intensively all the literature related to radiation exposure and consequences. When I say "ionizing radiation," I mean primarily that above about 15 electron-volts. 8 As you know, visible light is on the order of one to three or four electron-volts, and here we were at a level of 15 electron-volts or more, sufficient to ionize, or pull or push electrons out of the atom and produce ion pairs. Our study was to find the effects of this ionizing radiation on man and his environment.

There wasn't much in the literature that was helpful. All we found, essentially, might be listed under the meager information on the speculation that radium dial painters had a higher instance of cancer than would normally be expected. [It resulted from] tipping of the brushes [with their lips], pointing of the brushes they dipped in radium paste when they painted the dials of watches.

The other [main source of information] was a fair amount of data—a few scores of papers—that related to skin erythema.9 The most common unit of ionizing radiation at that time was the erythema dose. Most of the literature was in the medical journals, relating to the problems that dentists and radiologists, primarily, had had when their hands became red and painful, and it was considered to be the same as [the "sunburn"] you get from extensive ultraviolet [radiation] exposure. So, the first period at Chicago was spent in trying to determine what levels would be acceptable for workers and for the public, and in the development of instruments that could be worn on the person of the worker, and that could be carried by surveyors and could be displayed in the environment and working areas.

We had to find out the risks of beta10 and electron radiation relative to x radiation. We had no data on gamma radiation.11 We supposed it would be similar to the equivalent energy of x rays and we had a little information, as I indicated, on alpha [radiation,]12 which was, of course the radium dial studies. We had absolutely no information on the effects of neutrons—fast epithermal or thermal neutrons.

So this was a horrendous task, to try to read all that was available. We attended numerous seminars. We gave some and we listened to many, from others in various departments in the university and those that were working on the Manhattan Project—that was a code name used at the time for our work under Compton.

MORGAN: Dr. Wollan spent most of his time developing fiber dosimeters. They're small electrometers with a fiber that moves across the scale proportional to the dose administered to the instrument.


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