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Dr. Ernest J. Sternglass

1923 - 2015 Obituary Condolences
Dr.  Ernest J. Sternglass Obituary
Sternglass, Dr. Ernest J.

Dr. Ernest J. Sternglass, 91, Publicized Radiation Dangers, Pioneer of Lunar Cameras and Digital X-Rays, Dies

Dr. Ernest Sternglass, a physicist and inventor whose TV cameras sent the first live pictures back from the moon's surface and were also used in the Hubble Space Telescope, and whose digital x-ray systems work in the 1970s and 80s led to the low x-ray dose and high image accuracy of today's digital machines, died Thursday, February 12, in Ithaca, NY. The cause of death was heart failure.

Dr. Sternglass, Emeritus Professor of Radiological Physics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, was also a leading anti-nuclear activist. Dr. Sternglass felt that his testimony at the Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty hearings in 1963, contributing to halting atmospheric bomb testing in 1963, was his greatest achievement.

Dr. Sternglass, then a 23 year-old researcher at the Naval Ordinance Laboratory in Washington DC and recent Cornell University graduate, wrote to Albert Einstein about his work. Over 8 years of correspondence and meetings, Einstein encouraged him to pursue his ideas in particle physics and in "Secondary Electron Emission," the core of later lunar cameras.

After completing his PhD in Applied Physics at Cornell in 1952, Dr. Sternglass joined the Westinghouse Research Laboratory in Pittsburgh. The resulting research and inventions formed the core of the cameras that sent back the first live pictures and video from the lunar surface. The iconic live video of the Apollo 11 astronauts walking on the moon was seen around the world.

Over the years Dr. Sternglass was invited to work with or to discuss his particle physics ideas with Nobel prize winners Louis de Broglie, Neils Bohr, Richard Feynman, Robert Hofstadter, and with Seth Neddermeyer who participated in the discoveries of two other Nobel Laureates, among others.

In the early 1960s, Dr. Sternglass became aware of research showing that just a few pre-natal x-rays to the sensitive fetus resulted in a significant increase in the frequency of childhood leukemia. This marked the beginning of a lifelong effort to research and publicize the much higher-than-expected impact of low doses of radiation on public health.

In 1967, Dr. Sternglass left Westinghouse and moved to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. There he led pioneering work in the now universally-used digital x-ray imaging through the early 1990s. At the time, x-ray images were recorded on film. With a low radiation dose, and processing of the digital images to show hidden details, X-Ray imaging progressed significantly.

Ernest Sternglass was born in Berlin, Germany, September 24, 1923. His mother and father were both physicians. Their family escaped from Nazi Germany in 1938. He attended Cornell University in 1940 in Electrical Engineering. He completed an Engineering Physics Masters degree in 1951 and a PhD in Applied Physics at Cornell University in 1953.

In 1957 he married Marilyn Seiner, a Pittsburgh native, whom he stayed married to until her death in 2004. Marilyn was a prominent academic in the field of the teaching of remedial writing for college disadvantaged students.

Dr. Sternglass's younger brother Arno pre-deceased him. He is survived by his son, Daniel Sternglass and daughter in-law Casey Carr, of Ithaca NY, his daughter Susan Sternglass Noble, of London, England, and his grandchildren, Dan's and Casey's sons Russell and Andrew, and Susan's son Aurelius and daughter Claire.

Memorial contributions can be made to:

The Radiation and Public Health Project, P.O. Box 1260, Ocean City NJ 08226

Published in Ithaca Journal on Feb. 14, 2015
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