When Gilbert H. Nussbaum treats his cancer patients, he's well aware that they're running out of hope: They've already undergone chemotherapy or surgery, but their tumors have recurred. Nussbaum administers hyperthermia to these desperately ill patients, searing their tumors with intense heat. Yet Nussbaum is not a physician. He's a radiation physicist at Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology in St. Louis. He got his professional start as an atomic physicist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he worked from 1969 to 1976.

Nussbaum, who has been at Mallinckrodt, part of the Washington University School of Medicine, for a decade, says his career switch wasn't prompted by a need to find a job. "The positions I'd had were all permanent. But I kept getting hit by the feeling, like in the Peggy Lee song `Is That All There Is?'--that when I was doing my research...

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