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Health Physics, Medical Physics and Nuclear Physics

Health physics, medical physics and nuclear physics provide benefit to society through applications of nuclear or radiation physics. The quickest way to distinguish among them is to understand the objective of each of these endeavors. The primary objective of medical physics is to diagnose anatomic and/or physiological conditions of the body and apply nuclear techniques for cancer therapy. The primary focus of health physics is to minimize, prevent and control radiation hazards to individuals, population, environment. Health physicists also investigate principles by which radiation interacts with matter and living systems. Nuclear physics and nuclear engineering seek ways to use radiation and nuclear reactions, especially for power generation.

To clarify these objectives, here are some of the benefits these activities provide. Medical physics is used in medical imaging and radiation treatment. Health physicists are commonly active in designing radiation-detection instrumentation, establishing radiation-protection standards, studying effects of radiation on biological systems, designing facilities and radiation-control programs, or monitoring personnel working in hazardous areas. Nuclear physicists are typically involved in designing cancer therapy applications, nuclear power production, industrial and research applications, software development for radiation transport calculations, nuclear reactor analysis, environmental studies, health studies of naturally occurring radioactive material.

What do you study to become involved in health physics, medical physics or nuclear physics?

Some of these fields overlap, and experts in one field cross over to other fields or work with people with similar complementary skills. Medical physics applies physics, nuclear science, radiology, and medical science. Health physicists need a background in physics, chemistry, biochemistry, biology, mathematics, ecology, toxicology,and industrial hygiene. Nuclear physicists specialize in mathematics and nuclear physics or nuclear engineering.

Where would I work if I was involved in health physics, medical physics or nuclear physics?

Medical physicists would likely be employed by hospitals, clinics, or major medical centers. Health physicists would be employed by hospitals, clinics, major medical centers, nuclear power plants, industrial facilities, or government agencies. Nuclear physicists or engineers typically find employment in nuclear power plants, national laboratories, or facilities that design and manufacture reactor fuels.

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