by Sachi Khemka, Student, Medical Humanities, Rice University
During the Fall of 2020, I worked with the Dr. Armin Weinberg and the McGovern Historical Center on a practicum project, An Initial Overview of Radiation Effects. You can view the project site at https://digitalprojects.rice.edu/radiationeffects/.
The utility of radiation is vast and complex as it can be used for cancer treatment, medical diagnostic tests, environmental sustainability, and space exploration; however, at the same time, large-scale radiation events such as the Chernobyl explosion, a disaster that affected more than 3.5 million people, can induce public anxiety and result in adverse health effects such as certain cancers and acute radiation syndrome. The project includes a series of interviews discussing not only the health effects of radiation but also the cultural, social, and political effects that radiation exposure and disasters can have on the public. Common themes seen across the series of interviews are the use of outdated treatments, the differences in treatment between countries, the necessity for effective communication with the public, and more. Personally, through these interviews, I was able to gain a more comprehensive overview of the effects of radiation as well as its utility outside of a medicinal context. I learned that some radiation events have captured the public’s attention, like the Chernobyl disaster, while others have not, such as the nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands. By learning about some of these unspoken radiation events, I was able to better understand the role of ethics and the importance of transparency in the context of radiation events and nuclear testing.