Radiant Physics: using physics to treat cancer with Sean Geoghegan and ACPSEM

On this International Day of Radiology, we are delighted to introduce you to our next curator, Sean Geoghegan (@SeanGeoghegan), Chief Medical Physicist at sean_oblique_portrait_20150129ACT Health, Canberra, Australia.  Sean will be bringing us the annual conference of the Australasian College of Physical Scientists and Engineers in Medicine (ACPSEM) live this week. We’ll get to see how the non-medical sciences contribute to medicine.  We asked Sean our usual set of questions and here he is in his own words.


I’ve always had an interest in maths, counting numbers and looking for patterns since before going to school. I was also interested in the answer to the question “Are people made of atoms too?” which I asked my Mum when I was around 4 or 5. I was disappointed with the answer of “Yes” because I thought life was more than just atoms. I figured out at an early age that the way to answer this and related questions was do become a scientist or a priest. These people seemed to know the answers.


I chose physics because it was the most challenging for me and it seemed to be fundamental to understanding the universe. I was prepared to take my time understanding physics and consider theology later. It was only when introduced to biophysics and the understandable and describable complexity of DNA/RNA, biomolecular processes, cells, tissues, organs and living things that I realised that my Mum was correct in saying people are made of atoms. The maths helped explain the complexity giving rise to life – information that is more than just atoms, but requires atoms to hold and function as a dynamic entity we call living and even self-aware. This is what makes physics so attractive to me. There are fundamentally deep questions, such as those from quantum mechanics and relativity, that are testable and show the beauty of the universe. I moved into medical physics because it made me feel useful to help others. I feel really privileged to directly help individual patients and contribute to saving their life or improving the quality of their life. the job is challenging, varied and rewarding.


I lead a team of medical physicists, engineers and technicians in providing scientific, engineering and technical support for medical radiation used in the public health system in Canberra, Australia. The majority of my work is providing leadership and management for this team as well as advice to health care professionals.


Most the the work we do in my team is directed at detecting and treating cancer. It is surprising to find out that 40% of cancer cures are provided Sean_Geoghegan_with_linac_2008by radiation therapy and, in Australia, it costs about 9c in every dollar spent in diagnosing and treating cancer. We have an exciting story to tell about the how well we can detect disease as well as the accuracy and precision with which we can treat disease.


My main external obligation is being President of the national professional association for medical physicists, biomedical engineers and radiopharmaceutical scientists, the Australasian College of Physical Scientist and Engineers in Medicine (ACPSEM). My term as President finishes at the end of 2015. Apart from this I sit on a variety of advisory boards and consultation groups.


I really enjoy strategic and challenging games, ranging from board games, role playing and computing games. I used to sing first bass in a choir and play martial arts, but I haven’t had time to indulge these activities for years. When I get a birthday excuse it is laser tag or paintball.


Ideal Day Off: My ideal day off would depend on my stress levels – at high stress I love playing World of Tanks whilst at low stress I love spending time with my family and cooking or playing with them. Paintball, laser tag or role playing with a good lot of healthy and tasty meals throughout the day followed by a good massage would be ideal.

Please welcome Sean and the team at ACPSEM to Real Scientists!

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