Remembering Professor Jerome Spanier, Ph.D.

It is with great sadness to share that Dr. Jerome (Jerry) Spanier, a mathematician and statistician in the Department of Surgery and Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic, passed away on March 1, 2024 at the age of 93.

Upon his arrival at UCI, Dr. Spanier was keen on applying mathematics in medicine.  “Researchers were developing laser instruments that were exquisitely sensitive to small changes in tissue,” stated Dr. Bruce Tromberg, former Institute director and director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.  “However, there were no good models for understanding how this was to be achieved.”

In particular, he dedicated his efforts to designing computer algorithms, based on radiative transport theory, to create improved models for understanding how the light from lasers could be used to detect anomalies – including cancer – in tissue and to devise early detection and treatment plans for arresting diseases and/or curing them.  His curiosity and welcoming demeanor drew many young researchers to seek his guidance and the opportunity to collaborate.

Institute faculty member and Professor and Chair of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Dr. Vasan Venugopalan recalls, “As a young post-doc and assistant professor, I was drawn to work with Jerry.  It was so easy to talk with him and exchange ideas.  Although Biophotonics was a new field for him, it was clear that he had within him nearly an infinite well of knowledge that informed his approach to modeling and computation.  He was a terrific mentor for all of us at the Institute working on modeling and simulation.”

In 2007, Dr. Spanier delivered six visionary lectures, “Monte Carlo Methods and the Virtual Tissue Simulator,” which led to the development of advanced Monte Carlo methods and the Virtual Tissue Simulator (VTS) to a diverse audience across UCI.

In 2009, these concepts evolved into an annual three-day workshop designed by Drs. Spanier and Venugopalan,. The workshops introduced the first versions of the VTS, an open-source software tool that performs detailed biophotonics computations in real-time, creating a virtual laboratory “sandbox” to reinforce lecture material.

Later, the program expanded to address the interface between modeling and computation with biomedical applications, including additional lectures and hands-on technology demonstrations of state-of-the-art biophotonics technologies.

In 2013, Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic received National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding, which resulted in six annual weeklong Short Courses in Computational Biophotonics (SCCB).

“I had the pleasure of meeting Jerry soon after I arrived at UCI as a Beckman Fellow in 2001,” stated Dr. Bernard Choi, professor of Biomedical Engineering and Surgery and acting director of the Institute.  “I thought I had some knowledge in Monte Carlo techniques, but I was quickly humbled by Jerry’s lectures on the topic and grew to appreciate both the depth of knowledge he had and the power and elegance of the techniques that he, Vasan, and Carole [Hayakawa] developed to transform the field of computational biophotonics.”

Today, the program has impacted the education and training of over 100 graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and industry scientists from 24 universities, seven companies and eight countries.  That program laid the foundation for the current NIH Multiscale Biophotonics training program currently offered by Drs. Choi and Venugopalan.

“Jerry had a clear vision for how the topic of Modeling and Computation should be formulated and taught.  Our ability to codify that in the SCCB was greatly influential in the professional development of countless students and researchers,” stated Dr. Venugopalan.  “Besides his talent and intellect, Jerry was an exceptional mentor and inspirational force who led with kindness, patience and generosity without sacrificing rigor.”

“We are proud to continue the legacy of the NIH summer short course that he and Vasan started and to train the next generation of biophotonics researchers on techniques that he pioneered,” stated Dr. Choi. “Jerry was a gentle soul with a wonderful sense of humor and personality, and he is dearly missed by all.”

A memorial will be held on Friday, May 3, 2024 at 4:00 pm at University Synagogue at 3400 Michelson Dr. in Irvine.  For those who are not able to attend, please join the livestream here.

Click here to read the obituary for Dr. Jerry Spanier.

Click here to make a gift in memory of Dr. Jerry Spanier.