Health Physics Academic Programs

Purdue University

Jason Harris, PhD, Program Director

Left to right: Kyle Smith, Nolan Hertel, Marcia Robinson, John Bullock, Michael Abel, Colby Neumann, Eric Foss, Shraddha Rane, and Mychaela Coyne; photo courtesy of Jason Harris

In January 2018, Health Physics Society (HPS) President-elect Nolan Hertel, PhD, visited Indiana to share his talk on radiation protection research needs and the state of health physics and the HPS. Prior to his meeting with the Hoosier Chapter, Dr. Hertel visited the health physics faculty and students at Purdue University.

The Purdue health physics program is one of the oldest in the country and was born out of the work conducted by Dr. John Christian. Professor Christian developed a method of testing enteric tablet coatings using 24Na as a radioactive label in 1942. This pioneering research made use of short-lived radioisotopes produced in Purdue's cyclotron (one of the first in the United States, dating back to 1936). Subsequently, in 1947, Christian received one of the first shipments of a radioisotope produced in a nuclear reactor when reactor byproduct materials were released after the Second World War from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In the 1950s, a university radiation safety program was created, and by the 1960s, undergraduate- and graduate-level programs in environmental health and health physics (first termed bionucleonics) were established. Since that time, Purdue has continued to offer BS, MS, and PhD degrees in health physics. Faculty members at Purdue have included two past HPS presidents, Drs. Paul Ziemer and Richard Vetter.

After growth of the program in the 1980s and 1990s, followed by decline in the 2000s, the program has rebounded significantly. Currently the program has about 20 students, equally divided between undergraduate and graduate students. The last two years have seen increases in enrollment, and prospects look good again for next year. Program strengths include medical health physics, imaging, and nuclear security. The program is served by three faculty members: Dr. Jason Harris (program director), Dr. Linda Nie, and Dr. James Schweitzer, with the intent to hire another faculty member next year. Several other faculty in medical physics and imaging also complement the program. As part of Purdue's commitment to distance education, the program is planning to offer online courses and degrees. The goal is to reestablish Purdue as the leader in health physics education in the United States.