“How OSU Grew Nuclear Science- 50th Anniversary of the Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics (NERHP) Graduate Program”
LaSells Stewart Center, Oregon State University, Corvallis Oregon
October 11, 2009
59 minute oral history edited for clarity by narrator
Camille J. Lodwick (CL): Narrator OSU Radiation Health Physics Undergraduate 1997 and is now an Assistant Professor in Nuclear Engineering at OSU NERHP Department and Director of the Medical Physics Program at OSU/OSHU.
Anita Guerrini (AG): Interviewer, OSU History of Science Graduate Coordinator and Horning Professor, OSU History Department.
AG So yeah, why don’t you tell me a little bit about your background, where you are from, where you got your education?
CL Okay. I grew up in Roseburg, Oregon and I graduated from Roseburg High School in 1994. I looked at several different universities, wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. I always enjoyed the math. I had a phenomenal math teacher in high school, just one of those real inspiring people.
AG Yeah, that makes such a huge difference.
CL It makes a huge difference. He was, phenomenal, but didn’t have a really strong physics or science background and so I really didn’t come into it thinking I wanted to be a scientist or I want to be an engineer, but came to Oregon State after looking at a few universities. I just wanted to stay in state for financial reasons, and found it to be just a really good, well rounded…it gave me a lot of options. It wasn’t incredibly far from home; which, a part of me wanted to go far from home, and part of me wanted to stay nearby.
CL I got a Presidential Scholarship and I was trying to pay my way through school so that was very appealing. So I came up to Corvallis and really had no idea what I wanted to do but I had a lot of advanced placement types of courses. And so I also felt extra pressure, to decide very quickly, what to do. That is, I think, part of a person – some people don’t care if they take five years to finish but I was just very determined to figure out what I was going to do so I started out in pre-physical therapy and that lasted about a quarter…
CL And then I switched. Well, I remembered that I liked math and so I switched to math and I wanted to teach high school … I met with a few advisors in the different departments for education on how to get your undergraduate degree in the field and then how to pursue the Masters in Education which I think I would have absolutely loved, to be honest, …. It has always been an option. , There was always that draw to teach and to be around people. And, it was actually a boyfriend I met in Finley Hall, Seth Sproul, who happened to be a nuclear engineer and he was showing me the chart of nuclides one day. I was taking the standard intro to Physics and Chemistry as you would for pre physical therapy and a math major. But I had really never seen that. I mean, again, my science background was not strong, so I, I just had no idea. It was really interesting and you know personalities are funny. And so now as a professor I can see I just wasn’t very confident in my abilities: valedictorian, 4 point student, great at math. I really could do it, but it seemed so overwhelming to go into nuclear engineering.
AG Do you think it was because you were a woman?
CL I don’t know if it is societal or, if it’s….a personality. And so there were some key people in the nuclear engineering and health physics department that helped me with the confidence…you know, I never felt pressured; I never felt that they were trying to persuade me in any way, but just gave me the confidence to pursue something that I wanted to pursue on my own. That was Seth Sproul initially, he said, “no one is a super genius anywhere, you just go and you learn it. You are very capable and you’d be surprised, you know.” So I went to talk to Steve Binney, who was a professor at the time, he is emeritus now. And I met with him in his office and of all the people I had met with on campus…I had talked to pre physical therapy, pre med people, the math department and very friendly people absolutely,… but Steve sat down and he was really incredibly personable and I think it is the combination of a small department and….He cared. You could tell, instantly. He is just a caring person.
AG How many other majors were there at the time, do you know, within nuclear engineering and how many other undergraduates would there have been then, do you think?
CL Oh, I know my class which was undergraduate, was a combination of nuclear engineering and radiation health physics, was, I’d say twenty-five students.
AG So not a huge number…
CL Yeah, I mean, the courses were small.
AG Which is kind of nice.
CL Yeah. And so I talked to him and I decided to switch to radiation health physics, or at least check out a class…I didn’t switch officially, and then applied for a scholarship which I got through the Department of Energy which was another incentive to stay in it… That was my, I guess, my journey into the department…
AG And so you would have still been a freshman at this point?
CL Yes, I was a freshman and I started in the spring quarter and happened to show up the same year that Kathy Higley and Todd Palmer had started teaching. So I was in Todd Palmer’s first freshman class which is fun because now we are all coworkers. I’ve always enjoyed the people.
AG So, then as a major, what kinds of things then did you start doing?
CL So I was very interested in the more medical aspects. It seemed the department focused a lot on the nuclear power and so on the health physics side it was still related to nuclear power and nuclear power safety and occupational exposures to radiation. I found it interesting and I enjoyed the environmental aspects but really was looking for more medical kind of twist to it. And there were a few other students in my courses that I remember that were going to pursue a graduate degree in medical physics so I think the more I was exposed to the nuclear sciences and the options afterwards I was more drawn to the medical physics so I started pursuing the premed option as well.
AG Wow. So were you kind of…was anybody else in your family doing science, or what was your background?
CL No, not at all, in fact. Not at all, coming from Roseburg… so, my step dad drove a log truck and my mom taught kindergarten for thirty years. They were very supportive in whatever I wanted to do, but it certainly wasn’t even…encouraged. I didn’t feel any pressure whatsoever to go to college. They wanted me to be happy, and if that was starting a family right away or if it was pursuing an education,
AG Did you have siblings?
CL I have an older brother and he already moved and I think going to Western, also pursuing his education degree.
AG So you were really a kind of a path breaker in that sense in your family?
CL Yeah, I never sought out to be.
CL Not at all, it’s just really, kind of how it kind
AG Yeah, kind of how it happens.
CL Yeah, it’s crazy.
AG Well, I think that is probably true of a lot of women, that you don’t necessarily set out to do something else but then you just kind of fall into it and its like cool, this is pretty cool. But that’s good, that’s good. So then, so you are in this health physics program, so what kinds of courses did you take, did you take a lot of biological sciences as well as physics as well as nuclear science? What kinds of things did you take?
CL Yeah I did. So the core was in the department. Your first couple of years is still interlinked with the nuclear engineering curriculum but then , instead of pursuing some of the higher level nuclear engineering courses, it was more biological sciences. So it was a different depth to the biology and then anatomy and physiology and in addition to that additional chemistry courses. So it was definitely a different track. But what was great is that we had seminars that both groups participated in, so I still saw a lot of the nuclear power and energy side of it as well, which I liked. Its not that I am uninterested in that, it’s just that you choose a path.
AG So, what was the department like then? You were there in the mid nineties, fifteen years ago…
CL Oh my goodness.
AG Was it a lot different then? Were the emphases different?
CL You know… I don’t think I appreciated this as much at the time is that it is a very academic institution. we focus on education and really focus on undergraduate students. It is still one of the few departments that advise students directly at the undergraduate level so they have interaction with the professors. It is tough on the professor side when you are in a time crunch, but as a student I realize the value in that. It was extremely valuable to me.
AG So a very nurturing kind of environment.
C And that hasn’t changed. I think is amazing, because everywhere else it seems to have changed. It seems, that the focus is still students. It has, of course, trended to focus more on research and bringing in a graduate program, which I think is a great attraction.
AG Was there a graduate program there when you were there?
C There was. It was really small. I knew a few of the graduate students and a couple of them encouraged me to stay and continue on in the department for graduate school. I was absolutely not going to graduate school. At the time, I was ready to be done with school. Because of the incoming credits I graduated a couple of quarters early, so it was December of ‘97 instead of spring of ‘98, so I had a few months to flounder.
CL It’s true.
AG What do you do with an undergraduate degree in radiation health physics?
CL That is a great question. (Both laughing) There are a lot of positions that I think I would have enjoyed, but most of them involved me moving somewhere that I had not envisioned. I don’t know—I did not want to live in DC; I wanted to be in Oregon. This is where my family is. So I was going to go on and continue with my Masters in Education and still was going to teach science. At that point, that was kind of my plan.
AG Did you think about going to med school?
CL Yeah, I did think about it. I had talked to some people about that path, and really chose not to pursue it. I know I liked that the option was there in the end, that was really nice to know. And the thing is, it is still there…its fifteen years later, and if you have that background, and if you want to do it. I am even less motivated to do it now (both laughing) but—so it is probably not going to happen, but yeah. I like having the option.
AG So where did you end up going? Then what happened after you graduated?
CL Oh, I am not joking when I said flounder. I spent the summer of 97 in Macedonia with a group of people. Most of the college students were with International Aid and we were heading to Albania.
AG What a time to be there too.
CL I know, it was crazy because Albania was in a civil war. That was where we were supposed to be but they had just evacuated U.S. citizens out, and so we ended up with nothing to do in Macedonia. It ended up being a really fun time we were just hanging out at that point. We already had the trip planned so we just stayed there on the border of Macedonia and Albania and I developed some really great friendships with a lot of people from Ohio, of all places. So when I graduated, back in December, the holidays past, and I was looking for a job in Salem – just something temporary to hold me through to make some money while I applied for the Masters in Education and really didn’t quite know what I wanted to do. I think of all the times in life, that goes down as one of the most stressful, as far as figuring out what to do; feel independent, find a direction, and so I, I don’t forget that when I see the students come in.
AG But that is so important that you can, you know, empathize with that.
CL I can’t believe it has been fifteen years. It’s weird, it’s crazy.
AG For me it has been a few more years.
CL But, I ended up after not finding anything around Oregon. There could have been something but I realized, when am I going to have the free time to go visit people? And so I drove, I planned on staying a couple of months, just drove my Nissan Sentra out to Ohio and got a job as a cashier at a Kroger’s store in a small college town where my friends lived. I lived with them month to month, but still had the plan to go back and get my Masters and do the education thing. But health physics and nuclear engineering, the background, wasn’t necessary, I wasn’t choosing a career path in that specifically, but definitely sciences. I have heard different versions of this story from Andy Klein, and then from the Ohio side, which there are a couple of professors from the University of Cincinnati, but Andy Klein who was a professor at Oregon State, when I was attending, he used to work at Cincinnati so he knew the department head there and all I know is I was working at Kroger, and someone called my mom for my phone number and so I get a phone call from Henry Spitz in Cincinnati saying “we have a graduate opportunity for you to pursue your Masters degree in Health Physics and we heard from Andy Klein that you were a good student, and we’d like you to come…”
AG Just out of the blue.
CL To me, it was just out of the blue. I don’t know quite how it happened, but it’s just coming from a small department and people in the department knowing that I was driving out to Ohio, and people in Ohio looking, just chatting. It’s just a small field; it’s an incredibly small field.
AG That’s kind of cool, almost as if they had plans for you.
CL I always joke that I never had to apply to graduate school.
CL But I actually did have to submit an application after I was given the fellowship. So I did a one year Masters in Cincinnati and ended up really enjoying graduate school. I had no idea. There was something about the research aspect. It felt pretty similar to going into it as an undergrad and not even knowing yet if I enjoyed the sciences. I had no idea, really, what research was about, and how to figure something out on your own and answering the logical questions. My mind is kind of set up that way, I found out.
AG So you did not do a lot of research as an undergraduate?
CL No, we had some group projects. But it was a different degree; I felt a little less ownership in it.
CL It was more directed, and so this was my own self directed.
AG This was your own, thinking of it yourself.
CL Yeah, I loved it.
AG So then what, now you have your Master degree so then what?
CL I ended up staying in Cincinnati and another motivation to stay there was they did have a medical school there, so they offered a medical physics option. So the PhD was still in department of nuclear engineering with the option of medical physics but you had the cancer clinic right there so I spent some time in the clinic and got some hands on experience with the treatment machines. That was valuable in seeing a more applied science for me.
AG So at this point what did you think then that you were going to do in this field? What was your focus?
CL Well, you’d think I would have had this figured out; it is so late at this point.
AG Oh no, I have had a lot of graduate students!
CL The thing that was appealing about the medical physics option was that there was a very defined career path for medical physics. And my advisor in the medical school side, always joked, that it was a glorified trade school. I try not to use that in the medical physics program here, but….You really are being trained for a specific medical physics position in a hospital, which was nice, in the event that if I needed a job, I was trained to do this job. I do not know if that is necessarily what I wanted to do… I mean once you get into it, it is a lot of routine. It is some long hours. It was just a matter if I wanted to do that or not but it has always been a great option. But I really wasn’t sure. I had been working with the CDC on some research projects as a graduate student doing dose reconstruction for former DOE workers.
AG Oh, interesting.
CL Looking at the epidemiology studies,
AG That’s really interesting
CL And looking at their internal dose as a control for different leukemias, called the Leukemia Case Control Study. There was, some other, just interesting, jobs I found. Consulting for different companies. I worked out at Fernald for a little bit which at the time it was called Fernald Environmental Management Project but back in the Manhattan Project it was the site that refined uranium. It wasn’t a research lab like Los Alamos or Sandia but it was part of the DOE structure for the Manhattan Project
AG So what did you do there?
CL I was a graduate student so I did whatever they told me to (both laughing). I mean, it really wasn’t incredibly technical, it wasn’t a directed research project so they varied quite a bit but I did get exposed to a lot of different options as far as “with this degree, I can be … and get these types of jobs”. I felt fortunate, that I was exposed to options because there are advantages and disadvantages to every job.
AG Sure. So then what, so then finishing your graduate degree, when is this now?
CL I graduated in August of 2003 so I spent two years of my graduate work working for the Imaging Research Center in Children’s Hospital with a three Tesla magnet which was a research [magnet] that was much stronger than the clinical magnets for MRI. It was
an interesting combination of nuclear engineering and medicine —there was a bubble detector that detected photons and betas so we were finding three dimensional dose distributions of brachytherapy sources in this bubble detector. Little microcapsules would be formed so we had to image them to look at the density of bubbles, which was related to how much dose was deposited. So these little radioactive seeds would then be used for medicine. So the information we were taking out from this in a three dimensional sense was being used to calculate dose for patients. It was a good time for that type of research because everyone was characterizing these sources.
AG So is that technically pretty challenging?
CL Yeah, and it was very interdisciplinary which I really liked: you had the MRI physicist, you worked with the radiochemists, or the chemists, that made the actual chamber, the actual gel matrix, and they weren’t in Cincinnati. so we worked with them with the shipping and the data acquisition, which was more what I was involved with. I was also modeling the experiment and this is when I first got exposed to doing radiation transport types of simulations, which is simply calculating where the radiation goes. There are two different general ways of doing it. One is directly solving a massive equation, and I like math, but not that much. Or, just a probabilistic approach, which is, tracking the probability, radiation is going to interact in certain ways. it’s the Monte Carlo method. I got involved in Monte Carlo modeling.
AG So explain to me what Monte Carlo modeling is.
CL So this is the approach that given you have a photon or a neutron or whatever radiation particle or wave that you want to track. For medicine it was primarily photons, And this radiation goes through matter and it doesn’t matter if that matter (AG laughing) is a nuclear reactor or if its a person, so you define the characteristics of the material and then you say, given a specific energy of a photon, and defined material it has a probability of interacting this way. You still have to be up to speed as far as what interactions are possible. The probabilities were defined by the national labs primarily so we use these databases, and their codes for that matter, for radiation transport modeling…
AG So who is funding all this, is this mostly the Department of Energy funding or a number of different agencies?
CL Different agencies. The actual chamber for characterizing the sources was an
NIH funded grant because it was medicine and I wasn’t funded on that grant though. At the time, the research funding only went so far. But that was my research and I ended up being funded by different sources – it was a Fellowship for a year or two and then I transferred to the psychology department where I worked doing statistics on how engineers learn in different environments.
AG Oh my.
CL Which was a very interesting project.
AG That would have been interesting, but not exactly your field.
CL Um, yeah, it was just really interesting. One of the funding sources was Fernald from a Department of Energy contract so I was funded by them for a year but…. After the imaging—this is my stint there for a couple of years—I transitioned back to the lab I got my masters in doing x–ray florescence of lead and bone. But one common theme through pretty much everything I have done is this calculating where radiation goes. Whether it is in a gel chamber with the tiny seeds source or if it’s trying to measure lead in somebody’s bone, it is simulating this in a computer environment.
AG So a lot of modeling kinds of things, interesting. So now you’ve finished your PhD, now you’re looking for post docs… you are trying to figure out what to do.
CL Post doc never crossed my mind (AG laughing). I was more driven by where I wanted to live.
AG Oh, okay.
CL And so I moved to Salt Lake City and had no job. I figured I would just get out of school and figure it out. I do not necessarily advise that route to anybody, but I did that and applied to very random types of jobs…. this is even embarrassing to admit but when I applied for a job at Northrop Grumman. I had no idea what Northrop Grumman was. I had never heard of them, I had heard of Lockheed Martin, I had heard of Boeing, I have heard of other DOE… I mean other, other federal contractors but not…
AG Well, there not as…
CL Out there?
AG They were not as out there. I think so.
CL So they were looking for a systems engineer. They have the prime contract for the intercontinental ballistic missiles and that happens to be just north of Salt Lake at Hill Air Force Base. It was on Monster dot com and it was just random, I mean, nobody gets a job online like that!
AG (laughing) It was pretty random.
CL They had written the job posting for a specific graduate from the University of Utah that they knew who was graduating in nuclear engineering. They interviewed a few people and I ended up getting an interview a couple of months later and…I fit. I mean this guy Justin, my friend now, Justin Wild and I; identical on paper. It was funny. And so they brought us both in and ended up hiring both of us.
AG Oh wow, that is kind of cool.
CL It was. It was a great first real job. I like to call it my first real job even though I had worked quite a bit in the past. And that was doing nuclear hardness and survivability for the ICBMs. At that point they were all Minute Men III and deployed so we got requirements flown down from the Air Force Strategic Air Command saying “we need to be able to withstand this type of attack.” That’s when I obviously pursued my Department of Defense clearance that was top secret. But it really came down to where does the radiation go? So if we know a nuclear weapon goes off here or somewhere whether it is in space or underground or wherever… How is this going to impact our electronics somewhere else or our mission objective?
AG So did you think you would end up doing weapons research?
CL Oh, I had not, absolutely not, it never crossed my mind. I honestly did not know—this is the part that I was embarrassed about, I didn’t know what an ICBM was.
CL I am not kidding. I had no idea. It was out of my scope of my concern, I guess. It was passed the Cold War. I remember in general in the ‘80s the Cold War, in a general sense. I was around, but I was never really afraid of it and although I knew we had nuclear weapons, I did not ever think about where they might be, the structure of anything. It was just this progression of liking science, knowing the radiation side of the house and bringing that into the defense world. And it was really interesting physics! Incredibly interesting physics. So, yeah, that was my first job and my first introduction to the weapons.
CL So I worked there for a few years.
AG Why did you leave?
CL Well, mainly I think just personal reasons and wanting to keep moving. I think once you are in a job, too, for a while you see where you can get in that job pretty quickly. And it’s Utah. I mean I loved it, it was great skiing. I learned to snow board. I had a season pass every year I was there and I loved it. It was great. But I started to kind of look for other positions, again out of the blue, I mean, I did apply for the position, it wasn’t like “out of the blue” like not applying. I got an interview at Sandia and Los Alamos. I was even considering staying at Northrop Grumman and just moving to a different part of the country. So I moved, I ended up accepting a position with the X Division in Los Alamos and that was also weapons related but different…So Northrop Grumman is responsible for the delivery system, the weapon itself, all the stages and the—they call it the reentry vehicle, what reenters the atmosphere—but the warhead itself, the physics package as they call it, (AG laughs), is the DOE’s responsibility and the physics of that is the DOE’s responsibility. So weapons design is what I got into and because of my Air Force connection…I mean it wasn’t a real connection but a perceived probably more so than real. I was put on the Air Force design, designing the secondary aspects of the thermonuclear…
AG So the air force connection was from working with Northrop?
C Yeah because it was on the Air Force base and I was working on that delivery system so the warhead associated with that delivery system. The Navy will have a different warhead for their delivery system.
AG Oh, I did not realize that.
CL They have different designs. So I started at Los Alamos at the time when they were considering coming up with a one warhead design, the Reliable Replacement Warhead, which was in the news quite a bit but the funding did not actually come through, so that did not ever happen.
AG So what was it like to be at Los Alamos? That must have been a little different than being at Northrop?
CL Oh, yeah, very different. And the reason I did that is I wanted more freedom, to pursue, a more academic type of setting. In industry, every six minutes you had to charge to a project and it was kind of a joke for us, but yeah, everything was very…I don’t want to say regimented because I had a lot of freedom too…
AG Goal orientated?
CL Yeah. I mean, that makes it sound like I do not want to ever make any deliverables here, (both laughing) but I mean, it was the technical component. I joked that I was a “Power Point engineer” with a PhD, you know, and I ended up helping, spending 60% of my time developing presentations for work I may or may not have been involved with to present. It just wasn’t technically very challenging so that was another major motivation to look for a different position, something more research oriented.
AG Right. That makes sense.
CL So, I figured a lab would be a great kind of combo between an academic setting, if you know the funding is there, you don’t have to apply for a lot of grants. The funding was there from the DOE but it was still very technically challenging, and it was. I really enjoyed my time at the lab.
AG So how long were you there?
CL Not long (both laughing). I was there two years, about two years. And that’s when, I was at an American Nuclear Society Meeting in Albuquerque and ran across Todd Palmer again and I don’t know the last time I had seen Todd. I have no idea. I mean you run into people throughout the years. I would occasionally run into Steve Binney and every time it’s very exciting to see them. It’s fun to catch up and see how the departments doing. I think it would probably be pretty neat to see your students. I haven’t had that experience yet but I would think it would be neat.
AG It is very exciting.
CL So it was always fun to see them. But Todd and I sat down and talked about that the department was developing a medical physics program and they were thinking about options. And he said, you know, “I don’t know where you are in life” and I was telling him about my transition from Northrop Grumman over to Los Alamos, and he said, “I think you would be a good fit for the department.” That is another thing I really enjoy about the department is that they really focus on people. I mean all around, from undergrads through your coworkers. It’s not the fact that I was bringing in all this money and had the best connections. It was that we were going to work well together and we would work as a team.
AG So had you thought about…being an academic?
CL Ideally, academics was extremely in the back of my mind. I mean it would have to be in an ideal situation. But it was always back there, because it fits my personality as far as being around people and helping people, but still technically challenging. For me, the biggest fear, like with a lot of people going into academics, is the finding research money; getting the grants; the pressure of getting tenure; the publish or perish mindset. And, it’s you know, I am two years into it and it is still my biggest fear, right? It hasn’t changed. But I figured I’d apply, not have a shot, and so it would pass, and I’d stay at Los Alamos. But I also knew that it was a great opportunity and it’s a good department and its Oregon and there are not many opportunities here. It was a once in a lifetime type of opportunity.
AG So is your family really happy that you…
CL Yes, absolutely (both laughing). They had given up hope that I would ever ever ever move back here. And it is fun for me. I have a niece and nephew who are in town up the road. It is fun to be more a part of my family’s life on a more consistent basis.
AG Sure. So you have been here just for a couple of years?
CL Yeah, not quite.
AG What’s it like? Was it funny to come back to a department that you have been in as an undergrad?
CL It was bizarre. I bought a house in New Mexico and I moved back to where I went to undergrad, you know, twelve years prior and was living in an apartment. I had to sell most of my stuff and it makes you assess life as far as I am back where I started, (both laugh), somehow.
AG (more laughing) But in a slightly different position!
CL But that is what’s amazing, to see both extremes to me. It seemed like nothing had changed and “what am I doing?” and Corvallis looks exactly the same…
AG (laughing) It’s that kind of place, isn’t it?
CL But then also how different it is…you meet the students, if you realize the difference and where I’d come, I guess in that amount of time, because you forget how much you change I guess, until you meet a freshmen again. Oh my goodness.
AG It has been a good choice then.
CL Yeah, It is very fitting. It’s fitting for me. It is still stressful. I mean, again, it’s all those fears about going into academics. It’s a lot of pressure. I always equate it to starting a small business. you have your start up funds, and you need to produce students and papers and bring in money. But you need to bring in money to support them. It’s a balancing act at first with your time. That, and while trying to maintain a semblance of a personal social life in a small town. It’s also…
AG Yeah how is that? I mean, I don’t want to pry into your personal life
CL Oh no… its fine
AG But how does that work for…?
CL Well, so the first year, what has worked out well in the first year since we are developing a new medical physics program, and I am technically the director because I am the only one teaching the courses. It makes it an easy choice, but I ended up going up to OHSU a couple days a week pretty much all year. So it does help I mean, it keeps me busy, very busy and exposed to, it feels like a bigger city life with a few more options as far as young professionals. There are some in Corvallis though.
AG Are you single?
AG I was thinking what it would be like to move to someplace like Corvallis where I really didn’t know anybody.
CL Better than Los Alamos, I can say that (laughing). But a lot of it is that I have the support of family nearby and an incredibly supportive department. Honestly I have said this to several people that this is the only academic position that I would have ever taken. .
CL I would not have even been interested in it. It’s the fact that it’s the perfect fit… I mean, it is in Oregon and I know the people, and I knew that they would help me through the process. I am motivated and driven but, it does not appeal to me trying to go out and take over something, but I knew that I was entering as a part of team so it was a whole different perspective than feeling like you are out there on your own, trying to figure this out.
AG So you’re…in charge basically of the medical physics program.
CL I guess so (both laughing).
AG So how many students are there?
CL It was just about a year ago it was approved by the state of Oregon, OUS to be offered as a program. However, there were still logistical things that needed to be established, so there was a Memorandum of Understanding between the two institutions as to where the tuition dollars go. And as an academic, for me, teaching the classes has been a very rewarding aspect of it. Seeing all aspects of getting the program started so it is seen from the Provost level down to teaching the first students and that’s been really interesting. I would expect that normally it would be more stovepiped, like you have someone to teach the classes, someone to oversee it, and there is probably more management involved.
AG Yeah. In this case, you’re it.
CL (Both laughing) I guess so! Again, with the support of the department and Jose [Reyes] and Kathy [Higley] and Todd [Palmer] and David Hamby. Everybody has been incredibly, not just supportive verbally, but has actually stepped in and you know they provide their opinions, they talk to people that they know that can help who can make things happen, so it is not just me by any means.
AG So are you actively applying for grants now?
AG Who do you mostly apply to?
CL So what’s difficult is that grants, the NIH grants which would be an ideal one, are typically rewarded to a University hospital…
AG But there is no med school here.
CL Right, there is no med school here, and there are not a whole lot of collaborators on this side. The OHSU department of Radiation Medicine that I work with has not been a research institution in the past and they are trying to develop that as well. So they don’t have the research grants either. But going up there a couple of days a week, has been really key on developing that. I think that the real collaboration as far as the research side. So actively, I have applied for an NIH grant. And we are not expecting anything from that other than to just learn the process initially, but our funding has come from more traditional nuclear engineering and health physics so the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And then I still maintain my clearance due to the lab, I am affiliated with Los Alamos and so Todd Palmer and I worked on a project with some undergraduate students working with Livermore Z Division. I still kind of keep my fingers in that side of the house which, because, most of my contacts are in that area as well. So there is still some of that which has brought in some funding. So more Department of Energy, NRC and National Labs at this point.
AG So when you get funding, I mean, you don’t have a huge amount of equipment, or do you?
CL No, so that is a key point…it’s primarily to fund students.
CL Research time. Some travel and publication costs and some computational costs, I think we are set up for medical physics. It’s ideal, because we have people in computational sciences; people developing new radiation detectors and people who simulate radiation in those environments who really focus on developing deterministic methods. I primarily use the Monte Carlo way, the probabilistic approach. You bring all these together and it is just a lot of different directions you can go. So the students haven’t been lacking as far as Masters projects and senior design projects. There are a lot of medical physics types of applications…
AG So you have grad students and undergrad students. Do you have PhD students, are these Masters students?
CL I guess this is why it is very interesting in this moment, it is still in flux. OHSU is still developing and getting on line with the medical physics program and I feel like at Oregon State the objective has not changed. We just sort of started the process and so we do have some students. It’s a joint application. So OHSU and OSU both review the applicants and we agree who is in …it is intended to be truly joint and collaborative.
AG Does that seem to work?
CL So far, yeah, I think that is why it was key that I went up there to OHSU first…
AG And got to know everybody.
CL and so we could sit down and really be honest with each other what we need and what we want and what we expect.
AG That face to face.
CL And I really like going up to Portland,
AG Yeah. So, I have this list here but I haven’t asked you anything on it. What accomplishment are you the most proud of?
CL Wow…hmmm….I wish I had gotten tenure by now because then it would be easy (both laugh). I don’t even know if that would be it. I don’t know if I can point to a specific accomplishment but I am proud that I continue to try things… you know, that I stayed in graduate school. I tried graduate school when I wasn’t sure, and that I am attempting the academic path when it was probably the scariest thing I think I could have done for myself.
CL I mean there is a huge possibility of failure. I am coming into a supportive environment and they all tell me “you’ll do just fine” but it is still tough for me. It goes back to being the freshman and going into the nuclear engineering class. I’ve always been the person that needs an extra sense of, I guess, it’s an extra sense of encouragement…
AG Yeah, well, you are still kind of the new kid on the block
AG So, it would be scary, because not being in industry, industry is kind of “you got the job” and you just do your job…
CL Yeah, and you know what the expectations are and you just do it.
AG It’s a bit more open ended in some ways, but that makes it good.
CL It makes it fun.
CL And I absolutely love the students.
CL I like being able to interact. That is one of the biggest surprises is how much and the types of interactions you have with graduate students.
AG What situation or problem challenged you the most since you have been here?
CL The last two years? I think balancing the time between student’s needs, my own needs for being a successful professor, as far as writing, applying for grants, doing the research and teaching. You know this is what surprised me is the addition time of just counseling and wanting to talk (both laugh) over and over again (more laughing) you know, in addition to getting a program started. So the administration aspects of that and I know that is probably what any assistant professor on campus would say its time management and trying to find the right area to focus when you feel like you are in survival mode.
AG So, what do you know about the history of the department?
C Not a lot other than a few…
AG I mean is there stories that have been told about the early days or…
CL You know, the first couple of medical physics conferences I went to, several people brought up Dale Trout because, although he ended up being a part of a different department, he did a lot in the radiological sciences. I don’t even know him, but it was I think it was some diagnostic imaging I think. It’s been, I think that was in the fifties maybe…
CL I don’t know. Everyone just spoke incredibly highly of him and said “you know you have some really big shoes to fill at Oregon State, Dale Trout, Dale Trout,” and so I figured out I need to figure out who he is.
CL The Department, no. I know in general just from what I have heard from different presentations that it started as a nuclear science option in a different department and they broke off into their own…
AG And built a reactor.
CL (both laughing) Yeah. It’s amazing.
AG I think it’s amazing too. I think we are just about done here. Is there anything else you can think of, that you want to talk about?
CL I don’t think so, I just think that it is a great department.
AG We’ve covered a lot of ground you think.
CL Yes, Great, well, thank you.
AG Thank you.