In loving memory of Dr. Marvin Ziskin – written by Ken Foster
1936 – 2022

Memories of Marvin Ziskin

Both Marv and I have spent most of our careers at, respectively, Temple and Penn. While I had long been aware of him as a prominent medical physicist and professor of radiology, it was mostly in connection with his groundbreaking work in medical ultrasonics.

My first real contact with him came in the mid-1990s, a few years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union which resulted in the emigration of numerous Russian scientists to the West. He was walking down the corridor in front of my office, with several young Russian scientists in tow, to visit my colleague, Herman Schwan. Marv was taken up with their work on medical applications of millimeter waves, then (as now) a topic of considerable interest in Russia but largely unknown in the West. 

Marv persuaded the Richard J. Fox Foundation (named after a trustee of Temple) to support a new lab on medical uses of mm waves. He was able to support a thriving lab with several young Russian scientists, and imported Russian millimeter wave equipment, which at that time was more advanced than anything available in the West. He then began a decade long research program on biological effects and medical applications.

Marv never succeeded in curing cancer with millimeter waves (which as I recall was one of the aims of the project), but he and his team published about 50 original research papers spanning a range of mm wave bioeffects and dosimetry. The dosimetry, in particular, was first rate, with careful quantification of absorbed power in the targets – not a simple task and a major weakness of much Soviet-era research on the topic. He also published several major reviews on biological effects and possible medical applications of mm waves.

I became much more involved with him as a collaborator, starting in about 2015, when we collaborated on 8 papers related to heating of tissue with microwaves/mm waves. He was a very generous collaborator, very patient, and made significant contributions to the work. 

Many members of the IEEE C95.1 standards setting community know Marv from a different perspective, as a longstanding leader of the group, well endowed with sitzfleisch that enabled him to participate in seemingly endless rounds of meetings. With his background as a physician and his extensive experience in medical physics and electromagnetics, he was indeed a most valuable asset to the IEEE standards setting effort. 

I also came to know Marv and Leah, his wife, in a different setting – in visits every summer to his cabin in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, deep in the pine woods near a lake. He was proud of his handyman skills in keeping the place together: keeping the water pump for the well running, maintaining the rickety raft in the lake, fixing the electricity. Marv liked to take us on rides around the little settlement in his golf cart, followed by informal lunches on the porch of his cabin, washed down with beer and wine (for his guests) and diet Coca Cola for himself, followed by a swim in the lake. A real mensch, and a leading scientist in our field.