This paper presents the results of RAFT mediated free-radical graft copolymerization of 2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate (HEMA) onto cellulose fibers in a "grafting-from" approach under gamma-irradiation. The effects of absorbed dose and monomer concentration on the graft ratios were investigated at different monomer (HEMA) to RAFT agent (cumyl dithiobenzoate, CDB) ratios. Cellulose-g-PHEMA copolymers with various graft ratios up to 92% (w/w) have been synthesized. The synthesized copolymers were characterized by ATR-FTIR spectroscopy, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, elemental analysis and scanning electron microscopy. The results of various techniques confirmed the existence of PHEMA in the copolymer composition. (C) 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.