March 9, 2016  

Purdue Profiles: Jim Schweitzer

Jim Schweitzer

Jim Schweitzer has worked in the Radiological and Environmental Management office since 1987. He and his team provide health and safety consulting and provide for disposal of radioactive, chemical and biological waste on campus. (Purdue University photo/Charles Jischke)
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Purdue has some of the most advanced research in the world taking place on the West Lafayette campus, which also means it can have significant laboratory hazards and compliance requirements with various federal, state and local entities. 

Jim Schweitzer, director of radiological and environmental management, and his team make sure health and safety protocols are established in laboratory and shop areas through a proactive system of training and consultation. Using the Integrated Safety Plan, REM partners with various units to make sure that formal safety programs are implemented in each organizational unit to ensure compliance with federal, state, and local safety and environmental regulations. Schweitzer is a 1985 graduate of the School of Health Sciences. He worked at the Illinois Department of Nuclear Safety before returning to the University in 1987 as the radiation safety officer in REM. He has served as director since 2001.

What does a day-to-day snapshot look like for you and your team?

Every day is interesting. I come in knowing what I need to accomplish for the day, but I never know what is going to be added to my plans. Our primary focus is to provide environmental health and safety training and consultation on all of the Purdue campuses, as well as pick up all of the radioactive, chemical and biological waste on the West Lafayette campus and make sure it is disposed properly. However, we also might need to respond to an incident at a moment’s notice.  If a chemical or radioactive material spill occurs in a lab or shop on campus, our job is to make sure the incident is managed safely and that proper regulatory reporting is completed. Consultations may include advice on where to house X-ray equipment for proper shielding or testing the indoor air quality in one of our buildings. We help our campus community develop an effective safety culture.

Does your office have any involvement in managing Purdue Reactor No. 1?

We perform the safety surveillance for the reactor. We also calibrate survey meters and provide radiation measurements. When samples are irradiated in the reactor, my staff is present when they come out to check for radiation levels. I am also the chair of the Committee on Reactor Operations, which reviews operating procedures for the reactor and is required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s license.

Do you teach any classes?

This term, I am co-teaching a health sciences lab on radiation instrumentation. I enjoy teaching, and it turns out that many of the instruments that are used in the lab are used routinely in our area. We teach students how to use the instruments; we look at various technologies and the theory of how radiation monitoring devices work.

What is your favorite part of this job?

It's really all about the people. The great thing is getting to work with committed REM staff and brilliant researchers on our campuses. Our part is miniscule, but there is satisfaction in the role we play.

We also serve as an internship site for students not only in health sciences but we also co-host exchange students from the Dublin Institute of Technology. The fun part is providing students with real world experiences that they can draw upon as they move forward in their studies and their careers. 

Writer: Megan Huckaby, 765-496-1325, mhuckaby@purdue.edu 

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