In Memoriam: Kenneth L. Mossman


by C. Rick Jones

Dr. Kenneth Leslie Mossman died unexpectedly from natural causes on 8 January 2014 in Washington, DC. Ken had recently moved back to Washington, DC, to take on an appointment from President Barack Obama as a member of the U.S. Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

Born in 1946, Ken grew up in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. He received his BS in biology in 1968 from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Ken then enrolled in the Institute of Radiation Biology at the University of Tennessee to pursue graduate studies in radiation biology. He received a master's degree in 1970 and a PhD in 1973 in radiation biology. His dissertation research was on statistical modeling of transplantation of bone marrow stem cells into lethally irradiated mice.

In 1973, Ken was recruited to establish a teaching and research program in radiation biology at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, to support the rapidly developing clinical programs in radiation therapy in the university's newly established Vincent T. Lombardi Cancer Research Center. His interests in teaching led to the establishment of courses in radiation biology and radiation safety for residency training programs in radiotherapy and diagnostic radiology at the medical school, a series of dental radiology lectures at the dental school, and development of undergraduate courses in radiobiology at Georgetown College. His work on normal tissue response in head and neck cancer radiotherapy was funded by the National Cancer Institute and led to the publication of the first quantitative, objective, normal-tissue radiotherapy dose-response curves in humans. In 1979, Ken was tenured and promoted to associate professor and then to full professor in 1985.

In 1980–1981, Ken took a sabbatical leave to work at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland. Ken assisted in the establishment of the Low Level Radiation Effects Branch and also collaborated with William (Billy) Mills on interagency committee work. The NCI experience and collaboration with Mills generated great interest in radiation risk assessment, nuclear regulatory philosophy, radiation exposure during pregnancy, and radiation science and policy.

In 1984, Ken established a graduate program in radiation science at Georgetown to fill a void in graduate education in health physics, medical physics, and radiobiology in the Washington, DC, area. He was able to convince the university administration that a first-rate program could be established using the expertise of the federal agencies in Washington. In 1985, the program gained full department status in Georgetown's Graduate School. Creating this graduate academic program provided Ken with the opportunity to pass on his enthusiasm, wisdom, and profound sense of ethics to interested graduate students from around the world, further contributing to the profession.

In 1990, Ken left Georgetown to serve as assistant vice president for research at Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe. After two years of full-time administration, Ken returned to the faculty to pursue his first love—being a professor. In 2001, he became an affiliated faculty member at the ASU Center for Law, Science and Innovation, and in 2003, he became a professor of health physics in the ASU School of Life Sciences.

From 1997 to 2004, he also directed the Office of Radiation Safety for the university. Because of his excellent management skills, Ken empowered his staff to successfully cover the day-to-day radiation safety operations so that he could focus his attention on policy questions and resolving radiation safety issues typical of a comprehensive research university.

In 2007, Ken was appointed Administrative Judge for the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, within the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Ken served the Health Physics Society (HPS) in a number of capacities, including Society president and member of a number of committees, such as the Committee on Education and Training from 1982 to 1983, the Scientific and Public Issues Committee from 1992 to 1997 (chair 1994–1995), the Awards Committee from 1995 to 1999 (chair 1994–1995), and the Nominating Committee from 2010 to 2013. He was director and academic dean of the Society summer school in 1991 and a member of the Society Board of Directors from 1987 to 1990 and again from 1992 to 1995. Ken served as an associate editor of Health Physics from 1998 to 2001.

It is due to Ken's leadership skills, while HPS president in 1993–1994, that the Society established its first public affairs and public relations outreach program to better communicate our messages to a broader, public audience. Prior Society administrations recognized the importance of public relations, but during the Mossman administration the Society first institutionalized the use of a public relations firm to serve and further promote the interests of the Society.

Ken also championed two of the most-referenced and important HPS position statements, "Risk Assessment" and "Radiation Risk in Perspective," which firmly positioned the Society as a major player in the low-level radiation health effects debate. This latter position statement brought Ken into the middle of the linear no-threshold (LNT) debate across the country. It was due to his diplomacy and diligence in the pursuit of technical excellence that we can now thank him for not only initiating this discussion, but for significantly advancing the international debate by making the HPS a major player in the discussions on the appropriateness of the LNT theory in the system of radiation protection. These position statements represented significant departures from the historically conservative posture of the Society. Convincing the Society leadership and the Scientific and Public Issues Committee to approve these statements was challenging. Not everyone agreed with these position statements, as reflected by the numerous opinions expressed in Health Physics News, but Ken believed firmly that issuing the statements was the right action to take and his presidency was the right time to do it.

In addition to his work in the HPS, Ken made significant contributions to other prestigious scientific and professional organizations throughout the United States and the world. He was an active member of many professional organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the National Collegiate Honors Council, the New York Academy of Sciences, the Radiation Research Society, Phi Sigma Society, Phi Kappa Phi, and Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society. From 1996 to 1998, Ken served as a Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturer. In 2001, he was elected a fellow of the AAAS in recognition of distinguished contributions to the field of health physics and for advancing the understanding of the health effects of low doses of ionizing radiation.

Throughout his career, Ken served on a number of national and international advisory groups including advisory groups of the National Research Council (NRC), National Institutes of Health, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and International Atomic Energy Agency. He helped organize several important international conferences on radiation health and safety, including the Gordon Research Conference "Nuclear Waste and Energy" (2000), the Wingspread Conference "Creating a Strategy for Science-Based National Policy: Addressing Conflicting Views on the Health Risks of Low-Level Ionizing Radiation" (1997), and the Airlie House Conference "Bridging Radiation Policy and Science" (2000).

Ken received numerous awards during his distinguished career and authored many academic publications, with a new book scheduled to be published in the spring of 2014. Ken was honored with the HPS Elda E. Anderson Award in 1984, was designated a Society fellow in 1994, and received the HPS Founders Award in 2002. He received the Marie Curie Gold Medal from the Great Lakes Chapter in 1995.

He presented testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. His views on risks of low-level radiation are well known. When Ken was selected in 1999 to serve on the prestigious NRC BEIR VII Committee to evaluate health effects of low-level radiation exposure, 68 antinuclear groups challenged the appointment, claiming that he was ". . . perhaps the most energetic nuclear advocate."

Ken was preceded in death by his wife Blaire Susan and his parents, David and Sarah Mossman. He is survived by his brothers, Sam (Karen) of Windsor and Michael (Linda) of Nashville; nephews Matthew (Jes), Sean (Daydra), Jeremy, Elliot (Jessica), and Jeremy; nieces Lindsey, Melissa, and Lexi; and six great-nieces and great-nephews. His funeral was held 12 January 2014 in Scottsdale, Arizona.