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Medical Imaging Systems

Macovski Professor Albert Macovski has been called "the most inventive person at Stanford University. . . . There is no one else even close." Macovski has won this high praise by establishing himself, with over 150 patents in the last 50 years, as the nation's foremost authority on computerized imaging systems, especially those used in medicine.

Macovski earned a BEE from City College of New York in 1950, then an MEE from the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute in 1953. From 1950 to 1957 he was also on the technical staff at RCA Laboratories, where his improvements in TV receiver circuitry won him his first patents and many awards. In 1957, Macovski returned to Brooklyn Polytech, as Assistant and then Associate Professor.

In 1960, Macovski left the east coast for Stanford University, working as a staff scientist at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) while earning a PHD in Electrical Engineering (1968). At SRI, Macovski continued his work in television technology. His most significant patents from this period were for the single-tube color camera, soon adopted for all camcorders, and basics of TV interferometry (the subject of Macovski's doctoral thesis). Other patents covered improvements to printing, fax, holographic and encoded-color systems.

In 1972, Macovski accepted a joint appointment in Stanford's EE and Radiology departments. Here, he began to work on the whole spectrum of medical imaging systems, including digital radiography (x-ray), ultrasound, computerized axial tomography (CAT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Macovski's refinements gave these systems unprecedented subtlety and reliability. For example, his invention of real-time phased-array imaging for ultrasound first enabled doctors to observe not just the outlines but also the functioning of the organs of even a very young fetus. Often Macovski would target and correct a specific shortcoming in the technology. His improvements to x-ray and CAT scans first allowed for effective analysis of lesions and certain metabolites. He enabled MRI machines to image the flow of blood based on its motion alone, rendering injections of foreign "contrast material" unnecessary.

Partly because Macovski's work often depends on radical rethinking of how imaging systems acquire and process data, his inventions often drastically reduce the costs of what are, as a rule, very expensive diagnostic services. A career that began with improving consumer goods has become a history of contributions to health and the quality of life.

Now Canon USA Professor of Engineering Emeritus, Albert Macovski continues his work at Stanford, where he is also renowned as mentor to an entire generation of imaging engineers. In addition to earning over 150 patents, Macovski has written over 200 technical articles and the textbook Medical Imaging Systems. He is a Founding Fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering, and has won numerous awards, including the IEEE's Zworykin Award (1973) and the Peninsula Patent Attorney Association of Northern California's Inventor of the Year Award (1988).

[Aug. 2000]

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