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Duke Mammography Pioneer Dead at 85
Durham, NC - Former Duke physics professor, Fearghus O'Foghludha, an expert in radiation therapy died July 10 at Duke University Hospital. He was 85.
O'Foghludha came to Duke in 1970 and served as director of the division of radiation physics and as an adjunct professor of physics until his retirement as professor emeritus in 1992.
As head of radiation physics, O'Foghludha "played a crucial role in assuring that the use radiation in therapy was safe and effective," said G. Allan Johnson, a professor of radiology and physics at Duke and a former mentee of O'Foghludha.
Radiation physics was one of the earliest areas of medicine to use physics and "continues to be one of the most critical areas in which real physics meets the real world," Johnson said.
O'Foghludha "was one of the first scientists to see the value of physics in refining diagnostic radiographic studies" and did critical work to determine how to safely and effectively adapt radiography for breast cancer screening, he said.
O'Foghludha was also the first to suggest the development of higher-energy, florescent x-ray tubes for mammography, now standard in modern mammography systems, to help reduce radiation exposure. "He was a renaissance scientist. Well-read with an enormous grasp of language," Johnson said.
He explained that in a game common in the lab, a challenger would present O'Foghludha with a word, even one in a foreign language. O'Foghludha then had 24 hours and only his memory and skill in logic to define the word's meaning.
"I never saw him lose," Johnson said, adding that he agreed with O'Foghludha's family's parting words that "his like will never be seen again."
O'Foghludha was born January 8, 1927 in Dublin, Ireland. He earned his bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees in experimental physics from the National University of Ireland. He moved with his family to the U.S. in 1963 and served as associate professor, professor and finally chairman of the Division of Radiation Physics at the Medical College of Virginia.
He then came to Duke and served as a visiting scientist at the Oak Ridge Institute for Nuclear Studies, the University of Michigan and the University of Lund. After his retirement from Duke, he served as a visiting professor of physics at East Carolina University and a consultant.
From 1988 - 2002, O'Foghludha continued his research at Quantum Research Services, Inc. "He was a brilliant man who also was very engaging and generous," said William Dunn, who worked with O'Foghludha at the company and is now an associate professor and director of the Radiation Measurement Applications Lab at Kansas State University.
O'Foghludha is survived by his wife of fifty-six years, Catherine; two children, the Hon. Michael O'Foghludha, Resident Superior Court Judge of the 14th Judicial District, and Dr. Ria Mairead O'Foghludha, a professor at Whittier College; two grandchildren, Matthew and Kevin O'Foghludha; a sister, Mrs. Ite Downes of Drumcondra, Dublin; his daughter-in-law, Linda Daniel; and many relatives, colleagues, and friends.