A program that focuses on the effects of radiation on organisms and biological systems. Includes instruction in particle physics, ionization, and biophysics of radiation perturbations, cellular and organismic repair systems, genetic and pathological effects of radiation, and the measurement of radiation dosages.

Careers in radiobiology focus on applying ionizing radiation to living organisms.

Radiobiologists, also known as radiation biologists, use their knowledge of physics, chemistry, and biology to understand the effects of radiation on living tissue. Ionizing radiation (not to be confused with non-ionizing radiation, which we know as light!) is a type of energy that can cause damage when absorbed by cells, but also has the capacity to alleviate certain medical concerns. Due to this precarious balance, a significant aspect of radiation biology has to do with finding ways to minimize cell damage during treatment.

Of all the applications for radiobiology, radiation therapy is best known for its applications in cancer treatment. Administering small doses of radiation to an area containing a tumor can kill or transform harmful cells; it would be dangerous to try to apply the full amount at once, so a lot of work goes into finding the appropriate amount for an individual treatment. There are many types of ionizing radiation, which are divided into various overlapping categories: electromagnetic, particulate, sparse, dense, directly ionizing, indirectly ionizing, charged, etc. Radiobiologists must understand their applications and relationships, as well as their interactions with variables like tissue types or cell cycle turnover.

Work in radiation biology may include...

  • Designing or administering courses of radiation as treatment
  • Using specialized equipment to dose and deliver radiation
  • Introducing various agents to improve treatment margins
  • Finding ways to increase tolerance for radiation
  • Repairing cells damaged by exposure

Employers of radiation biologists tend to be in the medical and research sectors; many find work in treatment centers, diagnostic and imaging labs, research facilities, and nuclear power plants. They may work as consultants or educators, passing along specialized knowledge to others. Increasing concern for the environmental effects of radiation exposure has created jobs in the energy and conservation sectors. Certain government agencies conducting radiation research may hire radiation biologists, and the military frequently hires technicians, experts, and research personnel. Most of these jobs require certification or licensing since radiation is classed as hazardous, but acquiring this credential can open doors to a fulfilling career.

Most careers involving radiation require an advanced degree, although there are also certificate programs and degrees at the Associate's and Bachelor's degree levels. Completion of one of these programs is a neat way to demonstrate an understanding of radiation therapy and its applications; if you want to gain knowledge and jump straight into the workforce, a certificate or undergraduate program is a good way to do it. Four year bachelor's degrees allow for a more in depth exploration than shorter programs and can provide opportunities to coursework in particle physics, molecular chemistry, and cell biology; it's important to get a handle on how radiation works before working with it in a practical setting. For those who want to live and breathe radiation (in name only - this would be dangerous), a Master's or PhD program might be the way to go.

Radiation science is widely misunderstood, but with time and training, you could find a career in this fascinating field and start making a difference in the way we understand energy.

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