Vanderbilt University establishes laser safety program, appoints laser safety officer

Vanderbilt University has created a laser safety program and appointed a certified laser safety officer, significant steps in the university’s ongoing efforts to establish its Environmental Health and Safety Department. Vanderbilt announced it would transition its research EHS function from Vanderbilt University Medical Center to the university earlier this year.

The transition has concentrated on better aligning research-focused environmental health and safety with Vanderbilt’s mission, vision and culture while ensuring further alignment with the university’s goals and growth, said Andrea George, assistant vice chancellor for environmental health and safety.

“By improving and upgrading support and services for VU researchers, further opportunities for collaboration and communication will unfold,” George said. “The transition will include an upgrade to IT and data management tools to reduce administrative burden, as well as the movement to a value-added and transparent safety culture—all while making programmatic decisions grounded in faculty engagement, safety data, evidence-based research and peer analysis.”

Creating the laser safety program is an important milestone for EHS made possible through the tireless efforts of the university’s Laser Safety Committee. Established in January 2020, the committee has worked over the past two and a half years amid challenges and increased health and safety protocols brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The committee is charged with governing the laser safety program and ensuring that lasers on the Vanderbilt campus are used safely and in compliance with accepted standards and federal regulations.

“Lasers are a powerful tool for conducting the vital research and groundbreaking discoveries that are hallmarks of Vanderbilt’s research enterprise,” said Shane Hutson, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, professor of physics, professor of biological sciences and chair of the Laser Safety Committee. “Ensuring the physical safety of our faculty, staff and students as they use this technology is absolutely paramount.”

“Our committee’s approach to governance has been to exceed the basic standards of laser safety and make Vanderbilt’s program second to none in terms of safety and efficiency,” said E. Duco Jansen, senior associate dean for graduate education and faculty affairs, professor of biomedical engineering and professor of neurological surgery, who serves on the committee and whose research for the past 30 years has involved high power lasers and the interaction between laser radiation and biological tissue.

“Lasers are used and embedded in so many research labs on campus,” Jansen said. “We currently have nearly 60 faculty who have or use high power lasers in their labs and research, and there are close to 300 high power laser sources on campus and almost as many researchers using those devices. We are committed to providing the resources and support needed to make laser safety a top priority in both faculty research and the teaching lab space.”

VU’s certified laser safety officer

Sergey Avanesyan was named Vanderbilt’s certified laser safety officer in July 2020. In this role, he provides direct oversight of laser safety on campus and has worked in close coordination with the Laser Safety Committee to develop a variety of resources to be used by Vanderbilt researchers, including a new laser safety manual, training modules, user and inventory collection, and lab safety support visits.

Avanesyan first came to Vanderbilt in 2005 as a laser research and development engineer at the Free Electron Laser Center. Starting in 2009, he was appointed a research assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. In 2015 Avanesyan was hired to manage the Tunable Femtosecond Laser Facility at Fisk University. He returned to Vanderbilt in 2020 to become the university’s certified laser safety officer. He has a master of science in laser physics and nonlinear optics from Yerevan State University and a Ph.D. in laser physics from Moscow State University.

To learn more about laser safety at Vanderbilt, visit the Environmental Health and Safety website.