Inventors of Optical Coherence Tomography Win 2017 Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize


Wed, January 04, 2017

Washington, DC, January 04, 2017 —

The National Academy of Engineering and Ohio University announced today that the 2017 Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize will be given to James G. Fujimoto, Adolf  F. Fercher, Christoph K. Hitzenberger, David Huang, and Eric A. Swanson for the invention of optical coherence tomography (OCT). The $500,000 biennial prize, which recognizes a bioengineering achievement that significantly improves the human condition, cites OCT for “leveraging creative engineering to invent imaging technology essential for preventing blindness and treating vascular and other diseases."

The Russ Prize will be presented at a gala dinner event in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 21, 2017.

“This year’s Russ Prize recipients personify how engineering transforms the health and happiness of people across the globe,” said NAE President C. D. Mote, Jr. “The creators of optical coherence tomography have dramatically improved the quality of life for people with diminished eyesight.”

Optical coherence tomography has had a tremendous scientific, clinical, and economic impact on society. It is one of the most widely used technologies for imaging in the human eye and is an essential tool for the treatment of blinding diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy, helping diagnose millions of patients with eye disease at early treatable stages, before irreversible loss of vision occurs. OCT uses light waves to perform high-speed, micrometer-resolution, three-dimensional images of tissue microstructure. The technology has contributed to advancing the understanding of disease mechanisms and their treatments in multiple fields including ophthalmology, cardiology, and cancer.

James Fujimoto is Elihu Thomson Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, visiting professor of ophthalmology at Tufts University School of Medicine, and adjunct professor at the Medical University of Vienna. His group and collaborators invented and developed OCT, and he co-founded Advanced Ophthalmic Devices and LightLab Imaging, which developed cardiovascular OCT. He has published over 450 peer-reviewed articles and co-edited 13 books. He is a director of the International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE) and general co-chair of the SPIE BIOS symposium, and previously was co-chair of two Conferences on Lasers and Electro Optics and the European Conference on Biomedical Optics, and director of the Optical Society (OSA). He has received the Zeiss Research Award, IEEE Photonics Award, and OSA Ives Medal, and he shared the 2002 Rank Prize in Optoelectronics and 2012 António Champalimaud Vision Award. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, National Academy of Sciences, and American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Adolf Fercher chaired the Institute of Medical Physics at the Medical University of Vienna (1986–2008) and is now professor emeritus. He pioneered ophthalmic interferometry, demonstrating the first measurement of the axial length of a human eye using low-coherence interferometry (LCI; 1986) and one of the first retinal OCT images of the living human eye (1993), and he is the intellectual father of the first commercial LCI ocular biometry system. In 1995 he demonstrated, together with Christoph K. Hitzenberger, the first application of spectral domain (SD) LCI to intraocular ranging, enabling rapid 3D OCT imaging and modern OCT technology. Fercher is the author or coauthor of some 125 scientific publications in peer-reviewed journals. He studied physics at Vienna University of Technology and received his PhD in 1972. In 1968–1975 he was junior scientist at Carl Zeiss AG, where he worked on optical testing with computer holograms and in holographic interferometry. In 1975–1986 he was professor at the University of Essen, where he conducted research on laser speckle and biomedical applications of interferometry.

Christoph Hitzenberger is vice chair of the Center for Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering at the Medical University of Vienna. He co-founded, with Adolf F. Fercher, the university’s biomedical optics research group, and developed the heterodyne low-coherence interferometry (LCI) system for measuring intraocular distances (axial eye length, retinal thickness). This work led to the development of the first commercial LCI ocular biometry system, and the technology was expanded to record OCT images, the first in vivo retinal images of the human eye. He also demonstrated, with Fercher, the first application of spectral domain LCI to intraocular ranging, enabling rapid 3-D imaging and revolutionizing retinal diagnostics. Hitzenberger received the award of the Hoechst Foundation for Advancement of Medical Research in Austria and is a fellow of the International Society for Optics and Photonics and the Optical Society. In addition to serving as editor-in-chief of Biomedical Optics Express, he is the author or co-author of some 150 peer-reviewed scientific publications.

David Huang is Peterson Professor of Ophthalmology, professor of biomedical engineering, and director of the Center for Ophthalmic Optics and Lasers ( in the Casey Eye Institute at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. The COOL lab conducts research on retinal diseases, anterior eye disease, glaucoma, and other optic nerve diseases. He is a co-inventor of OCT and has contributed to polarization-sensitive, swept-source, spectroscopic, and anterior eye OCT as well as OCT angiography. He is also an inventor of laser therapeutic devices and mobile diagnostic technology, and a founder of Gobiquity Mobile Health (, which makes mobile diagnostic apps for professional and home use. Huang shared the 2012 António Champalimaud Vision Award and received the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology’s Jonas Friedenwald Award and the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Senior Achievement Award. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.

Eric Swanson is an active participant in a variety of entrepreneurial, industrial, academic, and volunteer activities.  He chairs the board of directors for Acacia Communications and is a member of the boards of directors for NinePoint Medical and Curata. He serves on the governing board of the Danish National Quantum Innovation Center is an affiliate of the MIT Deshpande Center for Entrepreneurship and MIT Translational Fellows Program.  He is a co-founder or founding board member of Advanced Ophthalmic Devices, LightLab Imaging, Sycamore Networks, Acacia Communications, and Curata. During 16 years at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, he participated in the discovery and advancement of OCT and worked on optical networks (including one of the first wavelength division multiplexed all-optical networks) and space communication (including one of the first intersatellite laser communication systems). He has co-authored over two hundred journal articles and conference presentations, seven book chapters; and numerous patents. He is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Optical Society, and a co-recipient of the 2012 António Champalimaud Vision Award and 2002 Rank Prize in Optoelectronics.

The Russ Prize was established in 1999 with a multimillion dollar gift to Ohio University by alumnus and esteemed engineer Fritz Russ and his wife, Dolores. Awarded biennially, the prize recognizes bioengineering achievements worldwide that are in widespread use and have improved the human condition.

The mission of the NAE is to advance the well-being of the nation by promoting a vibrant engineering profession and by marshalling the expertise and insights of eminent engineers to provide independent advice to the federal government on matters involving engineering and technology. The NAE is part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, an independent, nonprofit organization chartered by Congress to provide objective analysis and advice to the nation on matters of science, technology, and health.

Randy  Atkins
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Deborah M. Young
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Program Officer, Awards Program
National Academy of Engineering