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April 4, 2013

Obituary: Irving J. Lowe

irving lowe 2Emeritus professor of physics Irving J. Lowe, a contributor to the early development of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), died March 26, 2013, at his home in Pittsburgh. He was 84.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York in 1951 and a PhD in physics at Washington University in St. Louis in 1956.

As a graduate student, Lowe was part of a research group working in NMR. His doctoral thesis focused on developing the Fourier transform method, a seminal work that laid the basis for how NMR signals are manipulated mathematically in today’s NMR spectroscopy and MRI technologies.

As a postdoctoral fellow in 1959, Lowe developed a theory that by spinning samples at high speeds at a particular angle, NMR could reveal structural details not otherwise observable. His magic angle spinning NMR technique has been commercialized and is used today for molecular structure analysis in polymers and other solid materials.

Lowe came to Pitt in 1962, after three years as a faculty member at the University of Minnesota.

He joined the physics department as an associate professor and headed the University’s NMR research group. He was granted tenure in 1963 and promoted to full professor in 1966.

With the opening of Pittsburgh’s NMR Center for Biomedical Research in 1986, Lowe became a member of a joint scientific venture between Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University. He moved his lab to the Mellon Institute at CMU and built an imager around a commercial 31-cm. bore superconducting magnet. His group would go on to develop and refine the groundbreaking ultrafast imaging techniques that eventually would permit the observation of both streamline and turbulent fluid flow in a living animal.

Lowe’s honors included a 1997 symposium at CMU for his contributions in NMR and, in 2004, the ISMAR prize, the highest award from the International Society of Magnetic Resonance.

Beyond his family and his work, Lowe had a passion for the outdoors and physical exercise. He was an avid runner, biker and hiker.

Lowe’s family said he was a methodical man with an inquisitive mind for things outside the purview of physics. They said he was liberal in his politics, frugal in his lifestyle, devoutly atheistic in his beliefs and a conversationalist with a propensity for making puns. He relished classical music, Gene Krupa and the lyrics of Gilbert & Sullivan, his family said.

He retired from Pitt in 2005 after 43 years at the University.

He is survived by his wife, Irene Povlish; son Marc; daughters Rachel and Margo Lowe; Margo’s husband, Rocky Marino, and grandsons Enzo and Aurelio.

A memorial celebration is planned at a future date.

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