Professor Herbert F. Voigt, a long-time Biomedical Engineering faculty member who helped set the department on a course that would lead it to elite national stature, died suddenly on Jan. 25. He was 65.
Following his doctoral program and postdoctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins University, Voigt joined the BME faculty in 1981 and played an important role as the department’s small faculty established a research portfolio, the first step on its journey to becoming of the nation’s largest and highest-ranked biomedical engineering departments. He was also an associate research professor in otolaryngology in the School of Medicine.
“Herb Voigt was one of only seven faculty in BME when I joined back in 1984,” said Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen, a BME professor. “He was truly a pioneer in transforming the department from an undergraduate-only program to a full, research-active one with master’s and PhD programs. Herb also amplified the department’s influence nationally in its early years through his service as a leader in several biomedical engineering organizations.”
“Herb was critical in setting us on the path to the success we enjoy today,” said Professor John White, chair of the BME department. “He was department chair during a critical time, working with then-Dean Charles DeLisi to expand our research efforts into applied molecular biology. He had a remarkable record of service to the global community of biomedical engineering.”
Voigt’s research centered on the neuronal circuitry in the cochlear nucleus, a complex within the brain stem that carries information from the inner ear to the brain. As the principal investigator of the Auditory Neurophysiology Laboratory and a member of the Hearing Research Center, he conducted experimental and theoretical studies to better understand how the brain responds to sound. Through his research he was able to make intracellular recordings that could mark the role specific neurons play in the physiology of hearing.
Beyond his research contributions at BU, Voigt was awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant in 2015 to work with the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (PUCP) on developing a new BME PhD program that would be jointly offered with the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia. He also worked with the Instituto Nacional de Salud, Peru’s equivalent to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to create a research program that focused on detecting heavy metals in biological samples.
He worked to promote biomedical engineering through innovative educational initiatives whether it was on a local scale or a global one. Through his leadership position in the International Union for Physical and Engineering Sciences in Medicine (IUPESM), of which he was president from 2014-2015, he assisted in the development of programs and policies that promoted women in engineering, addressed global health issues and promoted the development of engineering and healthcare in resource-poor nations.
“Herb Voigt had enormous, positive impact on the BME department, especially in the earliest days,” said Professor H. Steven Colburn (BME, ECE), a long-time colleague and friend of Voigt. “He was an uplifting and optimistic presence through the years of developing the department and its reputation, and he took major roles in research, teaching, and administration. He was a valued presence for the students and for colleagues inside and outside of engineering. He did outstanding research on the dorsal cochlear nucleus in the auditory system; he supervised multiple doctoral students who became lifelong contributors to the field; and he was a recognized leader in the international community of biomedical engineering. He was also a delightful person and caring teacher. He is already sorely missed by me and by many colleagues.”
Voigt was a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and was elected the organization’s president in 2005. He also served as president of the International Federation for Medical and Biological Engineering, the Biomedical Engineering Society, and the biomedical engineering honor society Alpha Eta Mu Beta. He was appointed the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Engineering and Biological Society Distinguished Lecturer for 2012-13. Earlier in his career, he was a member of the National Science Foundation’s Fellowship Panel for Electrical and Biomedical Engineering in the 1980s.
In addition to his service in professional organizations, Voigt was active in the life of the University and the College of Engineering. He won the College’s Faculty Service Award in 2000, and served as secretary/treasurer, and later chair, of the University Faculty Council.
A celebration of his life will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 30 at 11 a.m., at Lombardo’s, 6 Billings St., Randolph, Mass., followed by a luncheon reception. Shiva will be held at the family home on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings from 7 p.m to 9 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his memory to
The Bach, Beethoven and Brahms Society, PO Box 470528, Brookline, MA 02447, and to
Congregation Beth Shalom of the Blue Hills, 18 Shoolman Way, Milton, MA 02186