Medical physicist Dr. Wayne Newhauser is combining his expertise with new 3D printing/scanning technologies to minimize treatment-related side effects for cancer patients. The Milwaukee native arrived in Baton Rouge in 2011 to work at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center and currently serves as the director of LSU’s medical physics program. Aside from his work in cancer research, Wayne has a passion for creating opportunities for up-and-coming scientists and mentoring the workforce of tomorrow.
Wayne is one of the speakers for TEDxLSU, which is coming up on March 11. Wayne took time out from his work to give us more insight to why he does what he does.
What sparked your interest in 3D printing technology for cancer treatment?
I watched a show on Netflix called “Printing the Legend,” and it opened my eyes to how transformative 3D printing could ultimately become. When a transformative new technology comes along, we have to try to make use of it. I had no idea what the end result would be, but I had a couple of ideas and hoped one of them would work out. The technology was just too powerful to not try something.
What is your favorite thing about working with up-and-coming researchers in the field?
They’re brilliant, they’re optimistic, and their lack of experience works in their favor. They don’t know that it can’t be done. They do things I may have bit my tongue on and not said “this is probably impossible,” and sometimes two weeks later they’re back with new information about innovative technology that’s now available. I benefitted tremendously from opportunities that were created for me, so now what tickles me is creating opportunities for young people.
What do you see for the future of STEM research?
I wish I could say I were wildly optimistic, but realistically, higher education is being defunded. I believe part of this is due to a perception that higher education is for the private good, not the public good. But there’s a public good associated with our mission, which is providing the pipeline of specialists who will make the breakthroughs of tomorrow. If we don’t correct it soon, it’s going to have long-term consequences.
Is there anything we can do to raise awareness about this issue locally?
Absolutely. One thing is focusing on philanthropy, and it’s amazing how little money it takes to make a huge difference. If someone is interested in having a large impact both on an individual student and on a workforce that contributes greatly to the health and wellbeing of Louisiana, funding a graduate student scholarship is a great way to do it.
Why do you think it’s important to get more women and minorities involved in STEM research?
We need the very best and brightest, and many of them are women and minorities. The number of women in undergraduate physics is comparatively small. However, we’re doing extremely well in our medical physics program given that most of the applicant pool is coming from male-predominant disciplines. Right now we’re collaborating with Southern University and Xavier to do some recruiting here in the state of Louisiana. It’s tough, it’s going to take time and effort, but we’re still striving to do more.
You are an advocate of public-private partnerships. What role does this structure play in medical physics program?
We couldn’t provide the same level of education that we do in the medical physics program without the partnership with Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center. And MBP couldn’t provide the same level of cancer cure to the patients here without the academic program. This is a poster child of sorts of the kind of public-private partnership between university and a private sector enterprise that benefits everyone.
If you weren’t a medical physicist, what would you be doing?
Well it was never plan A. I was going to go to technical school to become a machinist, but I decided to go to college very late in my senior year of high school. My dad and brother were both in engineering, so I went to college for nuclear engineering. Then I was almost in the Air Force, but the Gramm-Rudman Balanced Budget Act of 1987 hit so that axed my admission to the Air Force officer training school.
What is one thing you do every day that might surprise someone?
I hate to admit this, but I have a pretty established routine of go to work, work long days, have dinner with the family. There’s not really a lot of time for hobbies, but I’d love to pick up biking. I used to race and do long-distance touring. Now that the kids are older and physically capable, we can do that as a family.
If you could switch jobs with another TEDxLSU 2017 speaker, who would it be and why?
I’d like to say Howard Hall, but I don’t think I have the right personality to be a comedian. I’ll have to say Cynthia Peterson, the dean of LSU College of Science. I find her very impressive: what she does, how she does it, how she thinks. I guess if I were qualified one day, I wouldn’t mind switching for a year.
To learn more about Wayne or about TEDxLSU 2017, follow TEDxLSU on Facebook, Twitter<, and Instagram. Reserve your seat now to experience Wayne’s talk, as well as the talks of all of the other TEDxLSU 2017 speakers.