From the President: November 2018

Nolan Hertel, Health Physics Society President

At the start of October, I attended the meeting "Applicability of Radiation-Response Models to Low-Dose Protection Standards" meeting in Pasco, Washington. This was a meeting the Health Physics Society cosponsored with the American Nuclear Society. As I have said before, I find myself rather poorly prepared for the linear no-threshold (LNT) debate into which I have been thrust. My conclusions after that meeting, in oversimplified statements, are:

  1. Most epidemiologists support the LNT when they evaluate cancer incidence data.
  2. I am not as certain of this statement, but there appears to be strong support for a non-LNT model by radiation biologists. I am sure someone will correct me if I am too far off on this statement. Is this a consequence of the scoring of things on the cellular level?
  3. And a statement with a strong oversimplification is that most of us realize that the risk due to radiation exposure at regulated limits is sufficiently small enough to be acceptable compared to other societal risks.

Moving on from LNT, it was interesting that we also heard about the need to educate the public on radiation. I have been around nuclear and radiation professionals for a long time and have always heard this. So, apparently, we do a poor job of finding the correct avenues to approach this needed education. Some blame the lack of public education on the personality types of most scientists and engineers. I don’t want to go there in this column.

What I do want to address is an opportunity that currently exists for some to join an ongoing activity at elementary schools. That activity is the First Lego League Challenge this year—Into Orbit. This challenge consists, as it usually does, of a Lego robot challenge course and a project. The project could be on protecting against space radiation or a variety of other things. One of the local elementary schools in my county chose to look at space radiation. They invited me to attend a meeting before school (see photo) and discuss space radiation effects and shielding with the group. The group asked impressive questions, as they had done some study on their own. On the spot, I had to explain what a roentgen was to 4th and 5th graders. We had them come over to Georgia Tech to see some radiation detectors and take a tour of our facilities. All in all, it was a good experience for them and us.

Although an earlier start would have been more timely, you might contact your local school system to see if there are teams working on the challenge and volunteer to discuss radiation protection of astronauts and electronics in space. This is an opportunity even if the group has another project in mind.

Dr. Hertel with the First Lego League Challenge team and their sponsors at Lilburn Elementary School. Photo courtesy of Melinda Wilson, with parental approval to show the group