Center for Radiological Research (CRR)


Radiological Research Accelerator Facility (RARAF)


Principal Investigator:
Center for High-Throughput Minimally-Invasive Radiation Biodosimetry






Radiation is very much a two-edged sword -- used in the right way it has revolutionized modern medicine -- such as through CT scans and as a cure for many cancers. But radiation used in the wrong way can be harmful. To maximize the benefits of the many different applications of radiation, we need to understand exactly how they affect us -- from our DNA to the whole person.

I direct the Center for Radiological Research - now more than 100 years old - at Columbia University Medical Center. I started my career in theoretical physics -- applying quantum mechanics to radiation therapy. While I've forgotten most of what I ever knew about quantum mechanics, I've kept my love for applying hard-core maths and physics concepts to solve biological problems.

We want to understand the effects on people of both high doses and low doses of radiation:

At high radiation doses, radiation therapy is one of main tools to we have to cure cancer, and we are constantly looking for ways to make radiotherapy more effective and with less side effects. We've worked a lot on improving the radiation treatments for cervical cancer and for prostate cancer, and right now we are really excited about the use of charged particle radiation therapy in the fight against pancreatic cancer. The clinical results for carbon-ion therapy from Japan look really promising - but we don't know how it works - and so we are determined to take advantage of all the facilities at our Radiological Research Accelerator Facility (RARAF) to find out the mechanisms of how carbon-ion therapy may be curing this deadly disease.

At low radiation doses, radiation is important in many different circumstances, ranging all the way from medical CT scans, to radiological terrorism, to airport scanners, to the future of nuclear power, and even to space travel. We work on all of these, trying to understand the radiation risks, so we can maximize the benefits versus the risk in each case.

Most of our work is with ionizing radiation - x rays, neutrons, alpha particles, carbon ions, but there are many other different types of radiation. Over the past six years, we have been working on a very exciting new approach to killing drug-resistant bacteria - superbugs- , as well as airborne viruses such as influenza, using a unique type of ultra-violet light. We have always known that ultraviolet light can efficiently kill all microbes, but conventional germicidal ultraviolet light is hazardous to our health, causing skin cancer and cataracts. We have identified a particular wavelength of UV light that has the best of both worlds - it's safe and it kills microbes - including superbugs.