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In memoriam: Robert F. Wagner

Dr. Robert Wagner

Robert F. Wagner, 70, a distinguished research physicist and a founder of the SPIE Medical Imaging symposium series, died 30 June 2008 after a sudden illness. Dr. Wagner was a member of the Senior Biomedical Research Service in the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

An SPIE Fellow since 1988, Wagner was active on the program committee of the Physics of Medical Imaging conference at the Medical Imaging symposium, and author of numerous technical papers published by SPIE.

"The medical imaging community has lost one of its founding fathers and most highly regarded members," said Kyle Myers, Chief of the Medical Imaging Branch of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "His career was dedicated to the development of consensus measurement methods for the assessment of medical imaging systems, quantitative medical imaging and tissue characterization, and computer-aided diagnosis. He earned an international reputation in these areas and applied his expertise to a wide range of regulatory issues central to FDA's mission. He enlightened the scientific community within the agency as well as the international scientific community through the many invited presentations and tutorials he gave in and outside FDA, his numerous publications, his many professional society activities, and his assistance in regulatory decision making.

Wagner's research resulted in many highly cited and extremely creative scientific publications, as well as recognition in the form of honors and awards by FDA and his professional community, Myers said. In addition to being a Fellow of SPIE, he was also a Fellow of IEEE, AIMBE, OSA, and SPSE. Within the FDA he was awarded the FDA Commendable Service Award, the Award of Merit, the Commissioner's Special Citation, and the Public Health Service Superior Service award, in addition to numerous group awards.

"His greatest legacy may be the many young scientists he nurtured, either working directly under his tutelage at the FDA or otherwise benefiting from his unfailing patience and unselfish ease of availability," Myers said.

Roger Schneider, who worked with Wagner from when the CDRH was called the Bureau for Radiological Health (BRH), called Wagner's passing "a great loss. He was a most cordial colleague, humble and brilliant."

"This was a real gentleman. He had character," said Joe Yaver, retired executive director of SPIE. "He was truly a public servant in the best sense of the word."

Yaver first met Wagner in the early 1970s when SPIE was talking with the Bureau of Radiological Health about possibilities for collaboration.

"Bob and two others had been planning a meeting on application of objective measurement to radiological devices," Schneider said. "They were extremely naïve: they had a good committee and knew what authors they wanted to invite, but they wanted to have the meeting in six months and they didn't have a hotel."

The BRH group agreed to let Yaver find a venue, and he doggedly set to work, ultimately locating a hotel being built in Columbia, MD, that would "just about be finished when they needed it," Schneider said. The meeting was held on schedule in late 1973, resulting in Proceedings of SPIE Vol. 56 and a long relationship between SPIE and the scientific medical imaging community.

In the following video clip from an interview recorded in 2005, Wagner discusses progress in computer-assisted diagnosis, and the ongoing need for imaging.
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