Dr Keehan talks Radiation with the Yr 11 Physics students

HGC’s Year 11 Physics students were delighted to have a visit from Dr Stephanie Keehan this morning.

Dr Keehan spoke about her work as a radiation oncology medical physicist (ROMP for short!). She shared with students how physics is used to direct radiation down to the precise micrograde in the treatment of cancer in patients. She spoke about how copper, lead, and titanium have fascinating properties when it comes to shielding against radiation or even creating more radiation! She described how radiation interacts in human tissue and the amount of energy radiation deposits in tissue. Steph works in radiation oncology (cancer), which is all about ways we can use radiation to deposit energy directly into tumour cells, hopefully destroying them, without damaging healthy tissue.

Steph works at the Alfred Hospital in the Radiation Oncology department. This team takes care of the machines. We have a few different types of machines, including a CT scanner and medical linear accelerators (or “linacs”) which are used to create x-ray or electron beams for treating patients. She talked about how precise measurements (smaller than 1000th of a millimetre) are used to check that the radiation delivered to the patient is correct. She talked about the interesting safety measures used to ensure radiation is delivered precisely and without causing harmful effects to the people who are using the machines or damaging the healthy tissue surrounding the tumours. The students were fascinated to hear about the different methods of delivering radiation as well as the complex data collection needed to ensure the equipment is working precisely, efficiently and consistently, to ensure all patients get the best possible treatment.

The highlight for many students was hearing about Steph’s learning journey from high school to becoming a radiation oncology medical physicist. Thank you Dr Keehan, it was great to hear about all the interesting careers available to students who are interested in science!