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Health Physics


  • Vanderbilt University was just awarded $399,976 by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the support of Health Physics students over the next four years, in its Nuclear Education Program. This will support at least two full time graduate students per year over that period. Candidates are being actively recruited; interested parties may contact Dr. Stabin (
  • Vanderbilt has been designated as a participating university in the Nuclear Engineering/Health Physics (NEHP) Fellowship Program, sponsored by the Department of Energy, and administered by the Special Programs Office of the Medical University of South Carolina. The program awards fellowships to students with undergraduate degrees in the physical sciences, life sciences, or engineering, to pursue graduate training in Nuclear Engineering or Health Physics. Fellowship awardees must attend a university designated as a participating university in the NEHP Fellowship Program. A university's inclusion on the participating university list represents the Department of Energy's acknowledgment of the strength of its program. The program will allow students to pursue at Vanderbilt a Masters Degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering or a M.S.  Degree in Physics, with concentration on Health Physics, with full financial support from the Department of Energy. Michael Stabin, who is a Professor in the Physics Department and the Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences, leads the VU program.

What is Health Physics?

health physics

For decades, ionizing radiation has been used in beneficial applications, from treating cancer to generating electrical power. "Health physics" is the profession devoted to protecting people and their environment from potential radiation hazards, while making it possible to enjoy these beneficial applications. Many industries, medical facilities, defense plants, and research laboratories need professionals who understand radiation hazards and their prevention and control. The health physics profession is an interesting and rewarding field of scientific endeavor and incorporates an understanding of many disciplines. It has common scientific interests with many areas of specialization: physics, biology, biophysics, engineering (nuclear, civil, mechanical, or electrical), chemistry, genetics, ecology, environmental sciences, metallurgy, medicine, physiology, and toxicology. Health physicists work in a variety of disciplines, including research, industry, education, environmental protection, and enforcement of government regulations. The Health Physics Society has more detailed information.

Plan of Study


The program allows students to fulfill course requirements and then choose a research project plan consistent with the student’s desired area of professional development. A minimum of 32 semester credits in course work and research is required (13 credits of required core plus 13 hours of specialty electives plus 6 project/thesis hours). Various opportunities for research are available through the Departments of Radiology/Radiological Sciences, Environmental Engineering, Physics and Astronomy, and Radiation Oncology, as well as through cooperative programs with nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory and other local and regional facilities. In addition to a core curriculum, a master’s thesis or project report thus must be submitted and approved.

Core Curriculum

A core curriculum consisting of five courses (listed below), covering fundamental concepts of health physics, is required of all students. Students may then exercise a Medical or Environmental Engineering specialty. Courses in Physics and Astronomy, Environmental Engineering, Biology, Mathematics, Meteorology, Chemistry, and others may be selected for graduate credit with the explicit approval of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

PHYS 3125: Health Physics 3
PHYS 3645: Radiation Detection and Measurement, with Laboratory 4
PHYS 7007: Radiation Dose Assessment 3
PHYS 5248: Radiation Biophysics (Radiation Biology) 2
PHYS 8000: Seminar in Radiological Sciences 1
  13 cr

Medical Specialty

PHYS 2806, Physics of Medical Imaging 3
RAMD 5313, Clinical Diagnostic Physics 3
RAMD 5311, Clinical Therapy Physics 3
BME 3200, Analysis of Biomedical Data 3
RAMD 5301, Seminar in Medical Radiological Physics 1
  13 cr

Environmental Engineering Specialty

ENVE 4615, Environmental Assessments 3
ENVE 4800, Introduction to Nuclear Environmental Engineering 3
ENVE 4620, Environmental Characterization and Analysis 3
ENVE 4305, Safety, Security and Environmental Risk Management 3
ENVE 6805, Storage, Treatment and Disposal of Radioactive Waste 3
  15 cr

Project/Thesis - 6 cr

Master's Thesis


The master’s thesis generally will consist of a scholarly laboratory or theoretical investigation in the field of Health Physics. Proposed research must be approved by the Program Graduate Committee. The format for the final written thesis shall conform to the requirements of the Graduate School. A thesis committee is appointed to read a student’s thesis and to listen to an oral presentation and defense presented by the student. In general, the committee will include the thesis adviser and two additional members chosen from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering or the Department of Physics and Astronomy faculty and other departments in which the candidate has taken graduate classes or in the area of their research emphasis.

Find out about the Health Physics Society.