Donald Snyder, 87, senior professor of electrical & systems engineering

Snyder was chair of the department for 12 years

Beth Miller 

Donald Snyder, a senior professor in the Preston M. Green Department of Electrical & Systems Engineering in the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, died Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, of complications of gastrointestinal cancer. He was 87. 

Snyder joined the Washington University faculty in 1969 in the Department of Electrical Engineering and in the Biomedical Computer Laboratory at the School of Medicine, where he participated in research with Jerome R. Cox Jr., a leader in applying advanced technology for introducing new treatments in biomedical engineering; Michel Ter-Pogossian, the founder of positron emission tomography (PET); and others to develop PET systems. He was the Samuel C. Sachs Professor of Electrical Engineering and chair of the department from 1976 to 1986 as well as a professor of radiology at the School of Medicine. He became senior professor in 2003.

Snyder was the founding director of the Electronic Systems and Signals Research Laboratory in the Department of Electrical Engineering from 1986 to 1998. During this period, the lab grew to seven faculty, 25 graduate students and several undergraduate students working on fundamental aspects of imaging applied to biomedical, astronomical and remote-sensing problems. Snyder was a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), cited for “contributions to estimation theory and applications to communications and medicine.” He was the 1982 President of that Institute’s Information Theory Society.

After the initial launch of the Hubble space telescope, an aberration in the mirror was identified resulting in blurring of all images. Snyder proposed a novel image reconstruction approach that removed the blur; a version of this algorithm has been used on all subsequent images.

Joseph O’Sullivan, the Samuel C. Sachs Professor of Electrical Engineering and dean of the UMSL/WashU Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program, recalls Snyder as an extraordinarily accomplished man who made significant contributions to Washington University and to research.

“The imaging science community at Washington University owes a lot to Don Snyder for its existence,” O’Sullivan said. “He brought together imaging researchers across the university and formed the foundation for the certificate in imaging science and the Center for Imaging Science in the 1990s.”

O’Sullivan said Snyder was one of the first researchers to bring together mathematical theory and physics modeling to design imaging systems. He and Cox have the first patent on Xray CT technology with rotating gantries.

“Everyone who interacted with Don recognized that he was a clear leader,” O’Sullivan said. “He was always generous in co-authorship, recognizing the contributions of others and creating the positive environment we try to mimic today.”

Snyder earned master’s and doctoral degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1963 and 1966, respectively, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California in 1961. He was a U.S. Navy veteran who served during the Korean War.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. April 8, 2023, in Umrath Lounge in Umrath Hall at Washington University in St. Louis.

Snyder is survived by his sons Richard (Elspeth Keller) and Philip (Carol), and three grandsons, Owen, Alex and Elias. He was preceded in death by his wife, Carole.

Memorial contributions may be made to the St. Louis Men’s Group Against Cancer, 12951 Olive Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63141.

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