NASA Space Radiation Laboratory

The NASA Space Radiation Laboratory at Brookhaven National Laboratory officially opened on Oct. 14, 2003.


Betsy was much involved in designing the experimental areas of the facility. She was one of the investigators in the team studying the differential expression of genes involved in DNA damage sensing and repair, in cell death and survival, and in cell cycle regulation. The work aimed to develop a basic understanding of the mechanisms of DNA damage caused by cosmic rays and its repair.

Collaborating on Ionizing Radiation

Kathryn D. Held started collaborating with Betsy in 2003, when Betsy had already established herself as a pioneer in studying clustered DNA damage due to ionizing radiation. 

Ionizing radiation has high enough energy to eject an electron from an atom in a molecule. X-rays and gamma rays are ionizing radiation that consist of photons. When they interact with DNA, the ionizations they cause produce random breaks in the DNA strand

Effects of UV Rays on Human Skin

A collaboration with Columbia University enabled Betsy to study DNA damage and repair in the skin of healthy human volunteers. In 1980, Irene E. Kochevar was an assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology. The department’s chair at the time, Leonard C. Harber,  “was a famous skin photobiologist in dermatology,” says Kochevar, now a professor at Harvard Medical School. “Betsy somehow communicated with Dr.

Circular Dichroism Beamline

A March 1977 Physics Today article ( about a synchrotron light source to be built at Brookhaven National Lab catalyzed John’s scientific plans for his work there.


The facility, called the National Synchrotron Light Source, would allow various user communities to access high-intensity light of specific wavelengths for scientific experiments.


With his start-up package, John built beamline U9B for circular dichroism (CD) spectroscopy.


Effects of UV Rays on DNA

As a tenured biochemist at Brookhaven National Laboratory Biology Department, Betsy vigorously pursued the systematic study of the biological consequences of UV radiation on bacteria and human cells. Through her studies of the photoreactivating enzyme and its activity in human cells, she built a formidable expertise in cell biology and genetics. To the field of DNA repair, she applied the powerful techniques of genetic manipulation and DNA cloning.

The Great Migration Eastward

In 1977, Betsy and John moved their labs to Brookhaven National Laboratory, in Long Island, New York. “Richard Setlow had moved to Brookhaven, and he recruited us,” John says. Yet the Sutherlands had just gotten tenured, and as John recalls, “We had a nice house in Laguna Beach with a view of Sta. Catalina island, a pleasant place to be.”