RUSSELL KIRSCH
1929 - 2020
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KIRSCH RUSSELL A. KIRSCH Russell A. Kirsch died August 11, 2020 at his home in Portland, Oregon, from a form of Alzheimer's disease. He was 91. Kirsch was a pioneering computer scientist who was on the team that built the U.S. government's first programmable computer (SEAC) in the early 1950's. He is credited with creating the first computer digitally-scanned photograph in 1957, a now-famous 176 pixel-square black and white image of his infant son. That first-scanned image is regarded as a foundation for modern digital photography and computer image processing and was included in "100 Photographs that Changed The World" (Time Life Books, 2003). His work in image processing led to such diverse technologies as CAT scans, satellite imaging, desktop publishing and bar codes. Kirsch, the son of Russian and Hungarian Jewish immigrants, was born in New York City in 1929. He attended the Bronx High School of Science, with, as he used to say, "later refinements" at New York University, MIT, and Harvard University. He spent his entire 50-year professional career as a research scientist at the National Institutes of Science and Technology (formerly the U.S. National Bureau of Standards), in Washington, D.C. He headed the Artificial Intelligence Group which, beginning in the late 1960s, worked to bring early AI methods in computer-assisted pattern recognition and image processing to advance a wide variety of fields including cancer detection, biomedical imaging, currency counterfeit detection and archeology. The Kirsch Operator, named for him, is a mathematical algorithm he invented to detect edges in images. His research was widely published in scientific journals and he lectured broadly worldwide. In his retirement years, Russell and his wife Joan (nee Levin), an art historian and printmaker, moved from the home they built in rural Maryland, outside Washington, D.C. to Portland, Oregon. They pursued research into picture grammars and the work of the artists Richard Diebenkorn and Joan Miro. They also traveled the world photographing and researching cave art in France and petroglyphs in Africa, Europe and the U.S. and brought their respective skills to creating stereoscopic images of these ancient petroglyphs to better understand the nature and sequence of their creation and to help distinguish between ancient drawings from modern imitations. In the 1960s and 1970s, Russell and Joan took many multi-day wilderness backpacking trips with their four children through the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada. In their later years, they hiked and mountain climbed worldwide, including extended trips across India, Europe, Asia, and the Himalayas. Kirsch's first notable mountaineering achievement, he once said, was as a college student rolling a whole watermelon from atop the 11,500-foot Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. In his final years, as his decline began, he became a prolific poet, writing hundreds of poems - some of them humorous - describing, among other things, his personal efforts to keep his mind and wit sharp. He was active in professional scientific communities including as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a life member of IEEE. In addition to his wife of 65 years, Kirsch is survived by his children Walden (Portland, Oregon), Peter (Denver, Colorado), Lindsey (Seattle, Washington) and Kara (St. Paul, Minnesota), and four grandchildren: Nathan, Noah, Gus, and Gabrielle - all of whom he loved dearly. No service will be held.

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Published in The Washington Post on Aug. 13, 2020.
Memories & Condolences
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33 entries
August 23, 2020
RIP and thank you for your contributions to the world, Mr. Kirsch. I hope the best for your family through these times.
Kotone Otome
August 21, 2020
Thank you Mr Kirsch
August 21, 2020
A Legend, a Genius and foremost a Great Human being, joins his Creator
Jorge Robles
August 19, 2020
Muito obrigada por todos os caminhos que você abriu.
Débora Rocha
Significant Other
August 18, 2020
May God bless you and your family in this time of sorrow.
Brian Maciag
Acquaintance
August 16, 2020
Thanks for his contributions to science and technology
Marlon Bernarte
August 16, 2020
Thank you. You literally provided all of us with a means to preserve our memories.
SH Lim
August 15, 2020
We are very sorry to hear of Russell’s passing. He and Joan are our neighbors on our short street in the Southwest Hills. I remember how enthusiastic Russell was when he learned that I (Charles) was moving to our street after I retired from NIH. Russell admired NIH and had collaborated with NIH scientists at various times in his career. Shortly after I moved in, Russell greeted me with a poem and descriptions of his work at NIST and his collaborations with Joan on applying new artificial intelligence algorithms to deconstructing works of famous artists, most notably Richard Diebenkorn. Russell also greeted my partner, James, with a poem when he moved to Portland a couple of years later. James recalled that the poem was about the sounds of nature, the birds, the wind, and Russell’s perception of how he now hears his memories. After Russell concluded his recital, he explained to James that his memory was not sharp as it used to be and that his memories were triggered and recalled through the sounds and cadence of poetry. James thought to himself, "how amazingly awesome is that?" Joan later explained that creativity has always been a part of Russell’s drive, and that his poems and art are how he lives in the moment each day. We will miss his presence, even though quieter in the last years.

Charles N. Rafferty and James M. Perley
Greenhills Way, Portland, Oregon
Charles Rafferty and James Perley
Neighbor
August 15, 2020
Without Russell, videogames, computers and our smartphones would not be as amazing as they are. Russell, even though I never met you, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for all you have done to help humanity further itself. Rest easy, good sir.
Sam Schroeder
August 15, 2020
An enduring high-definition achievement from an endearingly modest low- profile individual, Russell's work brought far more to this world than he ever took out of it. Sympathies to a family that will miss him greatly, but salutations, too, to a unique human being who lives on in the millions of digital images taken every day. He's one of those infinitely rare individuals that many never knew never knew, but can now never forget. Thanks, Russell: and hey -- bon voyage to where there'll always be enough light to capture and share, and color aplenty to enrich every new moment.
Phil Tobin
August 15, 2020
Russell was the most loving, helpful, protective, advizing and even surprising "big brother" throughout our childhood!
Annora Sue Karr
Sister
August 15, 2020
To all the family and close friends, I wish you long life. I owe my making a living to this man. Thank you.
Jacques Marchand
August 15, 2020
I appreciate his work, his intelligence and his legacy.
Changiz Zarafshan
August 14, 2020
Thank you for all you did for digital imaging.
Mike Sandman
August 14, 2020
We've named our new puppy 'Pixel' in memory.
David Cumps
Acquaintance
August 14, 2020
A bright light has departed from our world. To keep shining forever
Oluwatimileyin Adeyemi
August 14, 2020
My eyes began to water when I read the report of Russell's death. I did not know him personally but digital photography (pixel based photography) has contributed greatly to my zest for life for almost 20 years. And all this time I used Pixel Peter as nickname. Russell is Pixel Father to me.
Thank you Pixel Father for contributing to my life.
Peter Meijs
Friend
August 14, 2020
Not just a great scientist but a great man. I lived next to him in Portland and he always had time for deep discussions about research and about family. He could have made millions in the private sector yet patriotically dedicated his genius to the public. We were so lucky to have him. Rest In Peace !
Vince
Neighbor
August 14, 2020
Never met the guy but he was certainly a great achiever and an example for all in whatever endeavor they may be, my deepest sympathy and respect to all his friends and family .
Humberto Yaakov
August 14, 2020
Thank you Russel, thank you very very much
Peter Laely
Acquaintance
August 14, 2020
The world, as we know it, is better because of this man. Being able to talk to family and friends in another continent over video call, being able to see news broadcasts from across the world. We owe it all to him - A life well lived. Each of us can only aspire to contribute to making humanity better and happier, the way he has.
Rohit M
Acquaintance
August 13, 2020
May you enjoy eternal peace and happiness, and may your immense contributions spur us all to work as you did, bringing peace and happiness to all on earth.
Al Sequeira
August 13, 2020
I did not know about him until i read the article, and now i miss him. Amazing person.
Rahul Raina
Student
August 13, 2020
Thanks you for everything.

Sincerely,
Humanity
Humanity
Friend
August 13, 2020
Your invention of the pixel has played a role in almost every aspect of my life. I am a professional cartographer and illustrator and thank you for your contribution to the world of science. Your invention allowed me to work for Nasa, the federal government of Canada, the Province of Nova Scotia and to create fantasy maps for my favorite author.
Garnet Whyte
Friend
August 13, 2020
Thank you and your colleagues for the colour print-out I made on letter paper in 1991 of nude Pamela Anderson when I was 6
Tanjay Miller
Grandchild
August 13, 2020
A remarkable man that changed the world without wanting fame.
August 13, 2020
His are shoulders that so many have stood upon and more without knowing. The world can never be greatful enough.
PJK
Student
August 13, 2020
Thanks for the pixels!
harvey sherman
August 13, 2020
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Sandy Ressler
August 13, 2020
It was with sadness that I recently received notification of your husband and our valued alumnus Russell's passing. I am writing to extend my deepest sympathy on behalf of the New York University Tandon School of Engineering and the Polytechnic Alumni Association.

He will be missed by all those whose lives he touched. Again, please accept my condolences to you and your family during this difficult time.

Sincerely,

Jelena Kovaevi

William R. Berkley Professor and Dean at NYU Tandon School of Engineering
August 13, 2020
What a man, what a brain, what an imagination, and what a life. I did not know him, but digital cameras and photography, an offshoot of his work, have given me a way to express myself and see the world around me. I am grateful. My sympathies to his family.
Jill
August 12, 2020
I met Russ in 1984 about a year before I came to then NBS the National Bureau of Standards. I specifically remember starting at NBS and unexpectedly running into Russ on one of my first days at work. We always got along because I was an art major (doing computer graphics) and after a few months at work I wound up directly working with Russ. I implemented a grammar for an artist (Diebenkorn) on a Sun workstation and it was a great collaboration. Subsequently we worked on creating pseudo-periodic tilings for work for the Treasury department. Both projects were pretty strange, but fascinating, a hallmark of Russ’ incredibly intelligent and imaginative mind. Over the many years at NIST we always found something to collaborate on. My wife and I got to know Joan (Russ’ wife) over time and we had the pleasure of visiting their Germantown house a few times. Joan we are so sorry for your loss be well.
Love Sandy & Faye
Sandy Ressler and Faye Taxman
Friend
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