Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Obituary: Jim Rockwell led surgical laser use

Created planetarium's Pink Floyd show

By Rebecca Goodman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Mr. Rockwell

MADEIRA - Ronald James "Jim" Rockwell Jr., a pioneer in the use of lasers in burn surgery and other medical treatments, also knew how to have fun with them.

He designed and built the system used to put on laser light shows at the old Cincinnati Museum of Natural History and Planetarium during the 1970s and 1980s.

Mr. Rockwell died Sunday, having suffered from various illnesses in recent months. The Madeira resident was 66.

"Literally thousands of Americans and laser users around the world owe Jim Rockwell a debt of thanks for his unsung championship of the safe use of lasers," said Lt. Col. William P. Roach, chief of the optical radiation branch of the Air Force. "His passing marks the end of an era in laser safety and the beginning of a new chapter that he has helped to write."

Mr. Rockwell often told his friends that he was fortunate to have taken a part-time job as a research assistant to the late Dr. Leon Goldman who was medical director of the laser research lab at Children's Hospital Medical Center. At the time, Mr. Rockwell was a graduate student studying physics at the University of Cincinnati.

He eventually became directing physicist of the lab and helped develop the use of lasers in dermatology, ophthalmology, burns surgery and other surgeries. Active in research for 39 years, he pioneered the design of laser medical systems and procedures and developed laser safety criteria.

In the earliest days of laser use, Mr. Rockwell met with researchers from around the world to present and debate research at the Gordon Conference on Lasers in Medicine.

In 1978 he founded Rockwell Associates Inc., which provided consulting services and related products to the laser industry.

Thanks to Mr. Rockwell, untold numbers of fans leaned back and enjoyed a colorful and creative laser interpretation of the music of Pink Floyd and other artists during hundreds of performances at the planetarium.

In 1989 his company was renamed Rockwell Laser Industries Inc. and offered a more complete spectrum of laser safety training, consulting and laser-safety products. Clients included medical, industrial, governmental and military institutions.

Mr. Rockwell launched one of the area's first sites on the World Wide Web and developed computer software programs to determine laser hazard analysis and safety computations.

He served as president of the Laser Institute of America in 1974 and as technical adviser on laser safety to the International Electrotechnical Committee and the World Health Organization.

He was also a member of Delta Tau Delta International Fraternity, the New York Academy of Sciences, Newcomen Society, and American Society for Lasers in Medicine and Surgery.

He received the President's Award from the Laser Institute of America in 1984.

Mr. Rockwell held a bachelor's (1960) and master's degree (1964) in physics from UC.

He owned a patent for an instrument that performs laser microsurgery and diagnostic transillumination of living human tissue.

Survivors include: Diane, his wife of 35 years; and two sons, Greg and Rick Rockwell.

Visitation is 4-7 p.m. Thursday at the Anderson Funeral Home, 8611 Winton Road in Finneytown. The funeral is 10:30 a.m. Friday at the Cedars of Lebanon Chapel in the Spring Grove Mausoleum.

Memorials: Madeira Schools Foundation, c/o R. James Rockwell Jr., Science and Technology Scholarship, 7465 Loannes Dr., Madeira, OH 45243.


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