Photo:

Rob Brass

No more chats booked until Friday so waiting for more of your excellent questions!

Favourite Thing: Hearing about, or getting cards from, patients who have been successfully treated … makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside :)

My CV

Education:

Oakdale comprehensive school 2001 – 2006. Crosskeys College 2006 – 2008. Cardiff University 2008 – 2011. University of Liverpool 2011 – 2014

Qualifications:

A Levels – Maths, Physics, Computing, Electronics. BSc Physics with Medical Physics. MSc Clinical Science (Medical physics)

Work History:

Corner shop. Hotel. Dominos. Harvester. Royal Liverpool University Hospital. The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre :)

Current Job:

Radiotherapy Physicist

Employer:

The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre

About Me

Your average Joe radiotherapy physicist :)

My names Rob, I’m 26 and from South Wales but currently living on the Wirral (near Liverpool).

I recently got married to my radiographer wife Sam, who thinks she’s Penny from Big Bang! We live in a 2 bed apartment not far from work (probably a bit too close!) and have 2 house bunnies called Bob and Pig ūüôā

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The boys ūüôā

I enjoy travelling, recently spending some time in Thailand, playing and watching all sorts of sports, and spending time with my wife and friends!

I’m currently hooked on GOT – on season 2, I started late, so no spoilers! Seen every friends episode at least half a dozen times, as have most people, and quite often have whole conversations with my mate Andy using just friends quotes! ? Favourite food is a good old Indian takeaway! Favourite sports teams, in no particular order, Chelsea, St Helens, Wales (obviously), Seattle Seahawks. I’m also a big boxing fan!

My favourite movies are top gun and pulp fiction.

I’m also into tattoos, I have a half sleeve and a rubbish bit of Latin on my other arm from Ibiza – don’t ever get a holiday tattoo!

My Work

Not all scientists wear white coats! I work in a cancer hospital where we use beams of radiation to attack tumours!

As a radiotherapy physicist in the NHS my job involves using my physics knowledge to help treat cancer patients with radiation.  The aim of radiotherapy is to deliver a high dose of radiation to the cancerous cells in order to kill / control them, while minimising the dose to the surrounding healthy tissues.  I carry out various roles as part of my job, such as:

  • Creating treatment plans for patients – deciding how best to safely deliver the dose to the tumour.
  • Checking treatment plans made by others to ensure they’re safe.
  • Performing measurements on patient specific treatments plans, either before or during treatment, in order to ensure that we deliver the dose we intend to deliver.
  • Performing measurements on our treatment machines, called linacs (linear accelerators), to ensure they are behaving as we expect them to.
  • Participating in clinical trials to try and find more effective treatments.
  • Participating in, and leading, projects within the department in order to commission new treatment techniques or pieces of equipment.

A more specialist area in which I work is called ‘Stereotactic Radio-Surgery’. ¬†Here we use up to 9 radiation beams from all different direction, all overlapping at a point in the middle of the tumour, to treat brain tumours. ¬†We deliver doses of up to 20 Gray (around 10 times what we’d normally give!) in one go. ¬†Because of this high dose the patient needs to be absolutely still when we’re treating, which sometimes means having a frame screwed into their head (ouch!) and the frame then bolted onto the treatment couch.

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SRS planning

The best part about my job is knowing that I’m using my physics degree to directly make a difference to people’s lives. The worst bit? I actually love my job but if I had to pick I’d say the early starts, I’m not a morning person!

My Typical Day

A day in the life of Rob Brass …

My days vary a lot depending on what i’m working on that day / week / month – this is one of the reasons i love my job, it stops it from getting boring! ¬†However, i’ll try and describe a typical day as best i can:

  • 08:00 ¬†Start work, head to one of our treatment machines that I’ve been assigned to ‘run-up’. ¬†this involves turning on the machine, warming it up by running a few beams, and then performing an output check. ¬†we do this usually by putting a flat detector array on our treatment couch and lining it up to the centre of the field, we then run different radiation beams and check what the detector is measuring against what we think we should be measuring.
  • 08:30 ¬†Tea break and head to desk. ¬†Check and respond to emails. ¬†Make sure I have patient notes, etc. ready to meet with doctor at 9am. ¬†Drink tea.
  • 09:00 ¬†Meet with Doctor so that he can outline that weeks SRS patient. ¬†The doctor uses his knowledge of the patient, gathered through meetings in clinic, as well as the information in the notes about their condition, in order to outline the tumour(s) on the MRI scan. ¬†We have specialist software that allows him to do this.
  • 10:00 ¬†Leave SRS work for now and go to Brachytherapy office. ¬†Brachytherapy is a form of radiotherapy that involves placing radioactive sources inside patients, next to or within the tumour, in order to treat. ¬†Most of the patients we treat in this way are gynaecological patients.
  • 10:30 ¬†Call comes through that first brachytherapy patient is heading to MRI. ¬†Our patients have an applicator inserted, and then are MRI scanned, CT scanned, outlined (like for SRS above), planned and treated all on the same day. ¬†Go to MRI and then CT to advise on imaging.
  • 12:30 ¬†Patient has been scanned and images are ready for doctor to outline. ¬†the doctor will outline the tumour as well as any nearby organs that we want to avoid (such as bladder and bowel). ¬†Time to grab some lunch while they do this!
  • 13:30 ¬†Time to create the treatment plan based on the doctor’s outlines. ¬†During treatment the applicator is hooked up to a machine that pushes out a small but powerful radioactive source on a wire. ¬†The source moves to different positions within the applicator for different amounts of time. ¬†It’s this combination of positions and time that I need to optimise when planning in order to treat the tumour and spare the other organs. ¬†Again we use special software in order to do this.
  • 15:30 ¬†Plan completed and checked by a more senior physicist, that’s my bit done! ¬†Time for another cuppa I think!
  • 15:45 ¬†Back to the SRS patient outlined this morning. ¬†In the hour or so left in the day I’ll start trying out some beam arrangements for this patient in our planning software, I’ll fine tune and finish it the next day.
  • 16:30 – 17:00 ¬†Home time! ūüôā

On other days I might spend all day at my desk working on a project report, or alternatively I could spend all day on a machine making measurements or all days in our big treatment planning office checking plans made by others, it can vary quite a lot!

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Where the magic happens

What I'd do with the money

Outreach :)

Medical physics is a very niche area of science and because of this a lot of people have often never heard of it (I bet none of you have!). ¬†So I think it’s important to raise the profile of medical physics, and radiotherapy in particular, so that¬†more students think of it as an option.

I’d use the money to help buy demostration equipment and fund trips to local schools, colleges and job fairs in order to make more people aware of the work we do, and to show people that not all scientist wear white coats!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Happy go lucky

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Ed Sheeran / Stereophonics

What's your favourite food?

Indian

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Travelled! Everyone should do it!

What did you want to be after you left school?

A fighter pilot. .. I still do!

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Uhh … once or twice :) I once had a letter home for flicking a paperclip at my friend, who then chased me around the yard, only I turned a corner and ran head first into my head of year … not my finest moment!

What was your favourite subject at school?

History weirdly!

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Every time I plan a patient’s treatment I feel like I’ve directly contributed to their care, so that :)

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

For A levels I think I just took physics because I was good at it, but my a level tutor then inspired me. He was a bit mad but seemed to put everything in terms that were easy to understand

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

A pilot hopefully … but more likely a beach bum in Thailand

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

Good health, happy marriage, and a small lottery win would be nice!

Tell us a joke.

What’s brown and sticky? ….. A stick

Other stuff

Work photos:

A quick video of a brain treatment:

Some other assorted work snaps:

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The office

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Patient masks

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A linear accelerator (treatment machine!)

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A naked linac!

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Water tank work

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Patient QA

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kV (low energy) Machine QA