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Marshall Brucer

Marshall Brucer

Marshall Brucer, first chairman of the Oak Ridge Institute for Nuclear Studies (ORINS) Medical Division.

The first chairman of the Medical Division, Dr. Marshall Brucer joined the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies (ORINS), now Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU), in 1948.

At the time, ORINS had been tasked by the Atomic Energy Commission with operating a medical research center to investigate the use of radioactive materials in diagnosing and treating diseases. Brucer once described the division’s beginning: “About 10 to 15 persons highly trained in some other branch of science tried to learn how to use radioisotopes and had a hell of a lot of fun learning.”

Under Brucer’s strong leadership, the Medical Division and its programs received international attention and acclaim as they fulfilled this task. Nearly 70 different radioactive isotopes were investigated for diagnostic and therapeutic uses, and numerous advances were made in the design and application of mechanical and electronic devices to aid in the handling, administration, detection, and evaluation of radioactive substances.

Outstanding developments by the division were also made in the fields of brachytherapy (close-up treatment) and teletherapy (treatment from a distance). Radiation devices used ranged from “a pot of lead with a hole in it,” as Brucer referred to a simple teletherapy unit, to a complex rotational device capable of focusing a beam of radiation on diseased tissue while traveling in complicated, three-dimensional patterns over the patient to lessen the damaging effect of the beam on the intervening healthy tissue.

Another important phase of the division’s activities developed during Brucer’s tenure included the establishment of training programs. These provided numerous physicians and scientists with training in the clinical uses of isotopes and associated instrumentation.

A native of Chicago, Brucer earned his bachelor of science and doctor of medicine degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. He interned at the Mallory Institute of Pathology in Boston before joining the Army in 1942. Brucer served as surgeon of the Airborne Command at Camp Mackall, North Carolina. He also was a member of the Airborne Test Board, which included jump-testing much of the equipment used by this arm of the service.

Following his time with the Army, he joined the medical staff of Bruns General Hospital in Santa Fe, N.M. He then joined the staff of the University of Texas Medical School in 1946, where he worked until coming to ORINS in 1948.

For health reasons, Brucer resigned as division chairman in 1962. He retired to Tucson, Ariz., where he remained active by writing articles and keeping up with correspondence to his colleagues worldwide. He died in February 1994.