Three Minutes with an NRC Health Physicist

Sophie Holiday
Health Physicist

By now most of you have heard of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) or STEAM (which also includes the arts). These terms are shorthand for the school subjects that experts believe are essential to prepare students for today’s workforce. What may not be as familiar is the range of jobs available to students in STEM fields.

3minutesAt the NRC, we are always looking for students with good STEM backgrounds. But we don’t only hire nuclear engineers. In fact, there are many health physicists as part of our workforce. This important specialty is the subject of one of our latest YouTube videos.

Health physicists are trained in protecting people, members of the public and patients from the potential hazards of using radioactive materials. Radioactive materials can be used in diagnosing and treating illnesses, conducting research, producing electricity or any number of industrial processes. Besides physics, health physicists might study biology, health, engineering, technology or environmental science.

At the NRC, health physicists fill a variety of roles. They review applications for new reactors and amendments to existing reactors. They make sure our regulations will be met by facilities involved in processing uranium into nuclear fuel. They oversee the safety of medical, academic and industrial uses of radioisotopes. They perform inspections at the facilities we license. Health physicists are essential to fulfilling the NRC’s mission of protecting people and the environment.

Check out our video to learn more about the important role health physicists play in our society.

The NRC Supports Local Science with A Special Student Award

Jenny Tobin
Project Manager
Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulations
 

The Montgomery County (Md.) Science fair, aka “ScienceMontgomery,” is not your average science fair. Many of the students living in the communities around the NRC headquarters have access to advanced science curricula and research opportunities, and there is a large pool of high-tech, biomedical, and research institutes that set the bar high for hands-on learning.

For me, who grew up in a very small Midwest farming community, serving as a judge for a special NRC award is always an eye-opening experience.

Jenny Tobin reviews Montgomery County, Md., science projects for a special NRC award.
Jenny Tobin reviews Montgomery County, Md., science projects for a special NRC award.

I was in good company with a 14-person volunteer team of NRC employees who got to evaluate more than 300 science projects from local middle schools and high schools. I was on the team that reviewed the high school projects and we picked the top three for NRC Community Awards that demonstrated achievement and application to the NRC mission, goals and responsibilities.

What I find most interesting, year after year, is watching, listening and seeing the current trends in topics the students choose as their science project.

A science project can be an experiment, a demonstration, a research effort, a collection of scientific items or display of scientific apparatus presented for viewing. This year there was a huge surge in cyber security, computer modeling and analyses projects throughout the fair.

In the high school completion judges must listen to the student’s presentation and their responses to questions asked. You can tell immediately which students know their topics and which ones have had too much adult or parental support.

What stands out when you speak to students can easily be summed up in their ingenuity of their project design, subject knowledge and passion for discovery solutions. I found these in the 2014 NRC award winners.

I particularly find amazing how the students re-engineer and recycle materials, and create new working designs. In the case of the first place project “Replacing Modern Sprinkler Systems with Infrared Detection to Locate and Extinguish Fires,” it was cool how they took motherboards, rubber bands and other common household items to create a working product that used infrared sensor technology to detect the hot spots of a fire and direct water to this location. For the NRC, fire protection and fire code continues to be a major spotlight issue in nuclear power plants and facilities. 

When I listened to the student whose project, “Saturated Nuclear Matter in the Large Nc and Heavy Quark Limits of Quantum Chromodynamics,” his ownership or mastery of the subject and presentation was so amazing that it made me flash back to my own quantum physics professors in college. This high-schooler was so savvy and professional. Basically his project worked through mathematical proofs, from first principles, on fundamental properties of quantum chromodynamics.   

NRC Deputy Executive Director Michael Weber (left) presents special awards for projects that relate to the agency's work. Also in the picture (left to right) students Richard Wang, Kevin Chen, Andrew Komo, Noah Kim, George Klees and the NRC’s Kreslyon Fleming.
NRC Deputy Executive Director Michael Weber (left) presents special awards for projects that relate to the agency’s work. Also in the picture (left to right) students Richard Wang, Kevin Chen, Andrew Komo, Noah Kim, George Klees and the NRC’s Kreslyon Fleming.

Novel solutions to real world problems such as “Finding Ways to Reduce Rush Hour Commute Times Using Computer Simulations” were another common theme at the science fair. This student programmed a simulation for a certain section of highway to evaluate potential solutions (such as adding exits, increasing the speed limit, adding a lane, etc.) to determine the best method to reduce traffic delays. He used data from the Department of Transportation to construct a true-to-life model of the situation. I could use less traffic to and from work!

In the end, learning about science is at the heart of a science fair; and anything I can do to fuel this passion is reward enough. By the way, the NRC supports this event because it is a way to give back to the community, engage students with an interest in STEM careers and – possibly – as a future recruitment tool. Winners receive an award certificate, a chance to present their projects to NRC staff and a NRC logo merchandise gift certificate.

Nine students were selected for the NRC Community Award that demonstrated achievement and application to the NRC mission, goals and responsibilities.

Middle School (Junior) Division:

1st Place: Raspberry Pi Controlled Robots — Student: Kevin Chen; Roberto Clemente Middle School

2nd Place: Securing Computer Networks — Students: George Klees and Theo Tosini; Takoma Park Middle School

3rd Place: The Efficiency of Data Encryption Methods — Student(s): Andrew Komo and Noah Kim; Takoma Park Middle School

High School (Senior) Division:

1st Place: Replacing Modern Sprinkler Systems with Infrared Detection to Locate and Extinguish Fires — Students: Ishan Mundra and Karan Chawla; Poolesville High School

2nd Place: Saturated Nuclear Matter in the Large Nc and Heavy Quark Limits of Quantum Chromodynamics — Student: Ishaun Datta; Montgomery Blair High School

3rd Place: Finding Ways to Reduce Rush Hour Commute Times Using Computer Simulations — Student: Richard Wang; Poolesville High School