Robert F. Wagner

In Memoriam: Robert F. Wagner

June 30, 2008

OSA Remembers Robert F. Wagner

Robert WagnerRobert F. Wagner, an OSA Fellow noted for his achievements in medical imaging, died on June 30, 2008. He was 70.

Dr. Wagner was a distinguished research physicist and member of the Senior Biomedical Research Service in the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 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 is also remembered for the many invited presentations and tutorials he gave in and outside FDA, his numerous publications, his professional society activities, his assistance in regulatory decision-making, and his role as a mentor to numerous Ph.D. students, post-docs and coworkers.

Wagner received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Villanova University, where he was selected “Outstanding Graduate.” He earned an M.A. in Theology from Augustinian College in Washington, D.C. and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Physics from Catholic University. After graduate and post-graduate work on the physics of nuclear interactions with radiation, he was hired by the Bureau of Radiological Health (a precursor to CDRH) to assess the dose reduction potential of radiographic intensifying screens made with phosphors developed in the color TV industry. In 1976 he was named Chief of the Diagnostic Imaging Section and he served in that capacity until 1995, when he assumed the role of FDA Senior Biomedical Research Scientist (SBRS), a position he held until his death.

Dr. Wagner was elected as a Fellow of OSA in 1989. He was also a Fellow of the IEEE, SPIE, AIMBE (American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering) and SPSE (The Society for Imaging Science and Technology). The FDA honored him with the FDA Commendable Service Award, the Award of Merit, the Commissioner’s Special Citation, the Public Health Service Superior Service Award, and the Excellence in Analytical Science Award, presented in 2001 “for the development of multivariate models and software for the assessment of diagnostic tests, imaging, and computer-aided diagnosis in the presence of multiple random effects.”

In recognition of his leadership in the field of assessment of diagnostic imaging performance, Dr. Wagner was chosen as a principal author of an International Commission for Radiation Units and Measurements (ICRU) report on image quality in medical imaging. The resulting document was published by the ICRU during the centenary year (1995) of the discovery of x-rays by Roentgen. This document laid the foundation for a series of ICRU reports with more detailed recipes, one medical imaging modality at a time, that have been developed since.

Dr. Wagner served on numerous academic advisory boards, search committees, conference program committees and editorial boards. He was a prolific reviewer for a broad spectrum of journals, including Medical Physics, Physics in Medicine & Biology, Optical Engineering and the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, and he performed grant review activities for such institutions as the National Science Foundation, the National Cancer Institute, the Atomic Energy Commission, the Canadian Research Councils and those of Great Britain, and the National Institute of Dental Research. In 2001 he co-chaired the annual conference of the Medical Imaging Perception Society.

Dr. Wagner is remembered by his colleagues for his “strong passion for science and humanity, a warm and charming personality, a wonderful wit, and a self-deprecating humility.” He is survived by his wife, Ellyn.