Health Physics

Black and white photo of five people in white coveralls holding a variety of handheld radiation detectors.
Many of the detectors available during the Manhattan Project were bulky, with some weighing up to 20 pounds. This issue eventually resulted in designs of smaller and lighter devices in the years after the Manhattan Project had ended. 1951



How are health and physics connected? If you’re confused, don’t worry, you’re supposed to be. A name meant to disguise the purpose of the program, health physics is the science of protecting people and the environment from the potential harmful effects of radiation.  

In 1942, Herbert Parker, a prominent medical physicist working in Seattle, traveled to Chicago to work on the Manhattan Project at the Metallurgical Laboratory. Scientists there developed the world’s first nuclear reactor and laid the foundation for the plutonium production reactors at Hanford. In 1943, he was the principal organizer of the health physics program at Clinton Laboratories (now Oak Ridge) and was one of the first three people to bear the title “Health Physicist.” Parker arrived in eastern Washington in 1944 to develop a health physics program for Hanford.  

Parker established the Health Instruments Section and initiated a radiological monitoring and control program. His goal was to develop formal procedures and controls for the protection of workers, citizens, and the environment from excessive radiation exposure. His innovations led to a better understanding of the effects of radiation on human health, enhanced protections for workers, and the emergence of a field that continued to protect lives long after the Manhattan Project ended. Learn more about health physics below.  


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Last updated: March 26, 2023

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