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New Faces: Francis A. Cucinotta

A childhood fascination with space exploration eventually led to a full-time role at NASA for a health physics professor.
People  |  Oct 10, 2013  |  By Kevin Dunegan
Former NASA researcher Francis "Frank" Cucinotta has joined the Health Physics department as a professor. (Aaron Mayes / UNLV Photo Services)

Francis "Frank" Cucinotta is an expert in radiation and how it affects the body. He can tell you which machines, such as X-ray, Computed Tomography (CT) and those new body scanners at the airport, expose you to greater levels of radiation that may be of concern. At NASA, he led a team focused on the potential radiation health risks to astronauts visiting Mars and determined how to mitigate those risks. Cucinotta currently teaches radiobiology to undergraduate health physics students and is continuing his research on radiation health risks in space and on Earth.


The health physics department is a good fit for me. The program is growing and it enables me to continue space radiobiology research and expand into other radiation issues of concern on Earth. I also wanted to live in Las Vegas. It seems like a terrific town and is a hub of sorts to many surrounding activities.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Philadelphia and in south Jersey, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia.

What is the biggest misconception about your field?

I think radiation itself is the biggest misconception. Many people are scared of it because of misinformation, or lack of facts. Most are uncertain about what is considered a low or high risk radiation exposure.

What is the biggest challenge in your field?

My field is very interdisciplinary. The biggest challenge is assembling a strong team of experts and getting them to communicate with each other, and to pursue basic science approaches that will lead to fundamental solutions to the various problems in radiation biology.

What inspired you to get into your field?

I grew up during the Apollo missions and, like many kids of that time, was fascinated by space exploration. I kept that interest throughout my school years, excelled at science and math and pursued what interested me most.

What is the proudest moment in your life?

The proudest moments in my life were the births of my two kids, who continually make me proud, and I've had many successes in science including developing the new radiation Quality Factors used at NASA and becoming president of the Radiation Research Society.

What is your one tip for success?

Find something that interests you and work hard at it.

If you could fix one thing in the world, what would it be?

There are so many children who endure incredible hardships such as poverty, abuse, and substance-abusing parents. Consequently, they become intellectually, spiritually, and emotional lost because those challenges are too great for them to overcome. I would like to find a way to help all of them.

Who is your favorite professor?

My favorite professor is Dr. Paul Mazur at Rutgers University. He encouraged me to think outside the box and to challenge the status quo of science.

What are your hobbies?

I like music, playing the guitar, traveling, and finding something in science that I am not working on and learning about it.

-- compiled by Kevin Dunegan, communications specialist for the schools of Nursing and Allied Health Sciences