Answer to Question #2561 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"
Category: Historical Issues/Applications
The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:
What is the definitive origin of the title/subject "Health Physics"? I have heard many reasonable explanations, but would like the real truth.
The following answer, the best I can provide, can be found at the Oak Ridge Associated Universities Website. It says:
Health Physics refers to the field of radiation protection. How appropriate the name is has been a matter of some debate (Taylor 1982).
The term Health Physics originated in the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago in 1942, but it is not known exactly why, or by whom, the term was chosen. Most likely, the term was coined by Robert Stone or Arthur Compton. Stone was the head of the Health Division, of which Health Physics was one of four sections. Arthur Compton was the head of the Metallurgical Laboratory.
Because the first task of the Health Physics Section was to design shielding for the reactor (CP-1) that Fermi was constructing, the original HPs were mostly physicists who were trying to solve health-related problems. This is the crux of the following explanation given by Robert Stone (1946): "The term Health Physics has been used on the Plutonium Project to define that field in which physical methods are used to determine the existence of hazards to the health of personnel."
A slight variation on this explanation was given by Raymond Finkle, an early Health Division employee (Hacker 1987): "The coinage at first merely denoted the physics section of the Health Division . . .. The name also served security: 'radiation protection' might arouse unwelcome interest; 'health physics' conveyed nothing."
Paul Frame, CHP, PhD
Hacker B. The dragon's tail. Univ. Of California Press; 1987.
Stone R. Health protection activities of the plutonium project. Proc. Am. Phil. Soc. 90(1); 1946.
Taylor L. Who is the father of health physics? Health Physics 42: 91-92; 1982.
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