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Chapter 2: High-Flux Years

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Protecting people from exposure to unsafe levels of radiation has been the mission of Karl Z. Morgan, sometimes known as the father of health physics.

Affectionately called "K. Z.," Morgan first made his mark in radiation protection as director of the Health Physics Division of Clinton Laboratories. With Elda Anderson, Myron Fair, and Doc Emerson, he spearheaded the formation of the national Health Physics Society and, with Jim Hart and Harold Abee, formed the International Radiation Protection Association. He was the first president of both of these organizations. Morgan also established one of the first programs to train health physicists and, with the help of Jim Turner and other Health Physics Division scientists, wrote the first textbook on health physics.

Karl Z. Morgan

Health physics was launched unofficially as a profession in December 1942 when the staff took precautions to protect themselves from radiation during the first controlled chain reaction at the University of Chicago's uranium-graphite pile. Health divisions were subsequently set up at the University of Chicago and Oak Ridge under Robert Stone to deal with health and safety issues at the Chicago pile and Graphite Reactor, respectively. The physicists who staffed these divisions were called health physicists. They instituted remote handling of radioactive material, controlled access to "hot" areas, use of protective clothing, and decontamination procedures for those inadvertently exposed.

Although trained and experienced as a cosmic-ray physicist, Morgan became one of the nation's earliest health physicists, along with the Laboratory's Herbert Parker and Ernest Wollan. These men brought to this new field a thorough knowledge of basic physics and radiation instrumentation. They redesigned and adapted the early ionization chambers, film meters, electrometers, and Geiger-MYller counters to meet requirements for personnel monitoring and radiation surveys of buildings and the environment.

Morgan came from Chicago to Clinton Laboratories in 1943 as a member of the Health Physics Section, which Herbert Parker managed until he left for Hanford, Washington, in 1944. In 1946, the section became a division and Morgan its director. In this capacity, he established a vigorous program to upgrade existing instrumentation using improved techniques that emerged in wartime research to develop radar and the atomic bomb. He remained an enthusiastic supporter of basic physical research to aid the development of health physics instruments and dosimeters.

As chairman of subcommittees of both the National Council on Radiation Protection and the International Commission on Radiological Protection, which were concerned with safe limits for radionuclides in the human body, Morgan identified internal dosimetry as an important area of research for his division and, in 1960, formed the Internal Dosimetry Section. Under Morgan, division scientists determined radiation doses to the Japanese from the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and predicted radiation doses from nuclear explosives proposed for use by Project Plowshare to excavate canals and liberate trapped natural gas.

Acting as first editor-in-chief of the Health Physics Journal and playing amajor role in establishing a system for the certification of health physicists were among his chief contributions to the health physics profession.

In 1972 Morgan retired from the Laboratory and later became a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology. He has continued to speak vigorously on his lifetime mission—reducing low-level radiation emissions from radon, medical procedures, and nuclear power.

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