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Spotlight: Matthew Firth, Radioactive Substances Specialist at SEPA

Tell us a fun fact about yourself

I've been working with radiation my whole career and I still don't have any superpowers!

Tell us about your career journey so far

I started out working as a Trainee Clinical Scientist for the NHS. After doing various placements in radiotherapy, physiological measurement, laser safety, a gait laboratory and nuclear medicine, I ended up working in the Radiation Protection department making sure the x-ray machines work properly and helping minimise the radiation dose that staff and patient's receive.

I then did a PhD in cardiac MRI, looking at new ways to image the heart in order to diagnose certain heart diseases.

From there I went back into radiation protection working for a private consultancy company who advise companies and organisations on how to use radiation safely and what to do with their radioactive waste. I was able to travel to many different countries performing radiation monitoring surveys and teaching courses on radiation safety.

I now work for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency as a Radioactive Substances Specialist making sure people use radiation safely, comply with the law and don't contaminate the environment.

What was your favourite subject in school and why?

I always liked physics because I enjoy finding out how things work. I also liked history, learning about what made our country, and the world, the way it is today.

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

Definitely physics, maths is certainly useful but probably not as important as it is in other physics based careers.

If you are interested in Medical Physics then a good understanding of human biology really helps.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

Travelling around Scotland seeing all the different ways that organisations use radiation.

What is a normal day in your role like?

Any organisation who wants to use radioactive substances in Scotland has to apply to SEPA. A lot of my time is spent answering queries or dealing with permit applications. We also make a lot of site visits and inspections to check everything is being done responsibly.

Suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?

The Society for Radiological Protection have some useful posters that explain what radiation is and how it's used:

The Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine have some VR videos showing what it's like to get a nuclear medicine or MRI scan:


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