VU Health Physics Program

The formal Health Physics program, began in 1947, with the establishment of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) by Congress. The AEC then took over jurisdiction of the Oak Ridge facilities.
The University of Tennessee arranged with Clinton Laboratories to establish a branch of the university’s graduate school to teach courses in physics and chemistry. Discussions ensued for organization of a group of Southeastern Universities to cooperate in this endeavor.

  • William G. Pollard, professor of physics at Tennessee, picked up on the idea formulated by Dr. Katharine Way of the University of Chicago, and began vigorously approaching representatives of several universities to form an institute, that would be the Oak Ridge Institute for Nuclear Studies (ORINS), later renamed Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU).
  • Francis Slack of Vanderbilt University was one of the five original incorporators of the institute, and personally delivered the signed incorporation papers to the secretary of state of Tennessee in Nashville.
  • Karl Z. Morgan, director of the Health Physics Division of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Herman Roth, of the Oak Ridge office of the AEC, visited several universities and wrote letters to physics and biology departments encouraging the formation of health physics programs.
  • Most response was lukewarm, but Francis Slack at Vanderbilt and Stafford Warren (an MD at Rochester) showed interest. The AEC selected these two schools for the training of practitioners in the radiological sciences.
  • The announcement read: “The field of radiological physics includes health physics, radiation monitoring and control, radioisotope measurements, hospital physics, and similar fields.”
  • Summer training for Vanderbilt students took place at Oak Ridge, where the first organized and separate program for health physics was established. The training was focused on physics and mathematics, less so on chemistry and biology.
  • One course at Vanderbilt that “no faculty member felt competent to teach”, Applied Radiation Physics, was taught by an ORNL staff members who came to Nashville two days per week. The course was taught by Elda Anderson for many years, and later by Myron Fair. Student received
  • Master’s degrees in physics, twenty-four semester hours of course work plus a thesis.
  • From 1950-1963, the AEC program trained 639 persons to enter the field of health physics
  • Over 23 years, 337 graduate students came to Vanderbilt on AEC health physics fellowships. 189 received master’s degrees, and 54 received PhDs.

→ Research: Vanderbilt’s Sherwood Haynes in 1947 was the first professor in the US to receive a faculty research participation award to do research at Oak Ridge. He received six grants between 1949-1955 totaling $44,000. Johns Hopkins received seven grants totaling $58,000 between 1951-1958, David Hill received grants worth $30,000 between 1951-1953, and Earnest Jones received AEC support for 17 years for a total of $128,000.

  • These sums were at the time unprecedented. Before this, professors were pleased to obtain grants of $400-500 for supplies and equipment related to summer research. Also unheard of was the idea that professors could supplement their annual salary doing research in their regular offices during the summers.
  • The close proximity to Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the keen interest of Vanderbilt medical faculty facilitated the production and use of radiotracers for medicine and the development of nuclear medicine at Vanderbilt.
  • The health physics training and research components were restarted in the year 2000. Master’s and PhD’s are offered in the Department of Physics and Astronomy with an emphasis in Health Physics. 25 semester hours of class work plus a thesis are required to graduate.

→ List of Graduates of the program:
Auxier, John A. Master’s 1952
Borak, Thomas B PhD 1969
Coffman, Franklin E Master’s 1967, PhD 1971
Deye, James A Master’s 1969, PhD 1971
Dyer, Norman C. Master’s 1962, PhD 1972
Everett, James C, Jr Master’s 1963
Finston, Roland A. Master’s 1960
Haywood, Frederick Master’s 1965
Heath, Russell L Master’s 1957
Patton, James A PhD 1972
Price, Ronald R PhD 1972
Reidinger, Leo L, Jf. PhD 1969
Skrable, Kenneth Master’s 1964
Turner, James E. PhD 1957
Villforth, John C. Master’s 1958
Waite, David Master’s 1966
Watts, James Master’s 1963, PhD 1972
Wood, Robert Q Master’s 1955
Ziemer, Paul L Master’s 1960