Research Award Gives Mars Project a Lift

Physics students’ radiation-shielding work progresses at MGH

Suffolk University physics students were recently recognized by the Society of Physics Students, both with the organization’s Outstanding Chapter honor and its Chapter Research Award, a $2,000 prize that will be used to further the students’ nuclear research efforts.

This is the third year in a row that Suffolk students have received the research award for their work studying neutron shielding at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

"The collaboration between Mass General and the Suffolk Physics Department has afforded amazing experiential learning opportunities for our students,” says Physics Professor Walter Johnson.

Students pose with poster at a physics research conference
Suffolk physics students presented their work at the 2019 Physics Congress

In the first stages of the project students measured and mapped neutrons emitted by one of the hospital’s linear accelerators. Now their work has progressed to studying the effectiveness of materials that could provide protection from radiation. 

The students will use the research award funds to purchase a neutron spectrometer, a device used to measure the distribution of neutrons from the radiation source.

“The ultimate goal of the research is to evaluate the neutron-shielding effects of different materials, important work in preparation for future missions to Mars during which people onboard spacecraft will be subject to various types of radiation,” says Johnson.

Physics major Phuc Mach, Class of 2021, considers the opportunity to conduct hands-on research at MGH “an honor.”

Mach and his fellow student researchers spend weeks carefully planning for their monthly MGH experiments, conducted at night when the radiation therapy equipment is not in clinical use. Then follow weeks of crunching all the data they gather. It is grueling work -- but also rewarding.

“This project is really important,” says Mach. “What we’re doing could impact the future of space travel.”



Greg Gatlin
Office of Public Affairs

Andrea Grant
Office of Public Affairs