Published: 19 March 2014

Medical Physics PhD student in the spotlight

A TV interview with Afghanistan-born Shakardokht Jafari highlights her achievements at Surrey and the journey that brought her here.

Filmed in the University’s Physics Department and Radiation Lab, the interview was featured on the consumer programme Manoto+ on 16  March. Produced by the UK-based Marjan Television Network, Manoto+ is one of the most popular television programmes in Iran and among Persian speakers in the UK , with an estimated audience of 15 million viewers around the world.

Presenter Amenah Mohammadi talked to Shakardokht about how she managed to obtain a good education against the odds, and about her valuable research work in the field of cancer treatment.

During the ten minute feature, Shakardokht demonstrated the findings of her PhD research: how inexpensive glass jewellery beads can be used as a highly accurate dosimeter (radiation monitor) for radiotherapy. Using a TLD (thermoluminescence) reader, she showed how the excited electrons emitted by the glass bead are proportionate to the amount of radiation they receive.

Shakardokht says, “The presenter was fascinated to learn about the atomic structure of a simple glass bead, and how this enables us to determine the precise level of radiation being received. Her first reaction on entering the radiation lab and seeing the set-up was ‘but where are all the wires?’”

The interview also focused on Shakar’s motivation for pursuing the field of medical physics. Having lost her own father to cancer, she became determined to improve the situation for cancer sufferers in Afghanistan: since the war, there has been no cancer treatment available, meaning that patients face a poor prognosis if they cannot afford to travel to neighbouring countries and pay for treatment.

Shakar decided to study for a PhD at the University of Surrey to further her knowledge of radiation therapy, having become involved in a long-term project with the International Atomic Energy Agency to set up the country’s first radiotherapy centre since the war.

However her road to Surrey was far from easy. Born in Afghanistan, Shakardokht and her family were forced to flee the country when Russia invaded, becoming refugees to Iran. She overcame prejudice from society and family members to continue her education instead of marrying, becoming the only girl in her town to get into a public university.

Describing her day on camera, Shakardokht says, “It was an interesting process. I’m generally shy and not keen to be put in the spotlight; however for the sake of girls and women in Afghanistan, I was pleased to be able to share my story.”

Shakardokht’s dosimeter concept is currently being tested by cancer treatment centres around the UK with promising results. She will present the findings at global radiotherapy conference ESTRO in Vienna in April.

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