Jerome R. Cox Jr., prolific inventor and computer science professor, 97

His work pioneered personal computing in biomedical research

Beth Miller 

Jerome R. Cox Jr., senior professor emeritus in computer science & engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, died Jan. 17, 2023, in St. Louis. He was 97. 

Cox joined Washington University’s faculty in 1955 and contributed significantly to the areas of biomedical computing, multimedia communications and computer networking. He and a graduate student, A. Maynard Engrebretson, created a computer to measure hearing in infants. Their work paved the way for early detection of deafness and for mandated screening tests for newborns in the United States.

Cox’s work made a significant impact on biomedical research both at Washington University and worldwide. In 1964, he brought the Laboratory Instrument Computer, which became known as LINC, and its development team to WashU from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). LINC transformed biomedical research by integrating computer science with medicine, allowing researchers to program data analysis on the fly, and is considered to be one of the first personal computers. That same year, he founded the Biomedical Computing Laboratory, which introduced small computers to biomedical research. 

His pioneering work in radiation treatment planning paved the way for systems in worldwide operation. Computer methods his research team developed for reconstructing images from CT and PET scanners aid in the diagnosis of cancers and cardiovascular disease. His innovations were instrumental in developing early monitors for heart rhythm disturbances. He also worked on computer applications in mapping the human genome and in electronic radiology. He holds 12 U.S. patents and published more than 150 journal publications. 

“A year or so before COVID, I had lunch with Jerry,” said Aaron Bobick, dean and the James M. McKelvey Professor in the McKelvey School of Engineering.  “At age 94, he was telling me about the two startups he was currently working with and how one of them had just achieved some significant traction with the Department of Defense. Jerry was a remarkable combination of excellence, passion and humility.  Both his life and his legacy are inspirations to us all.”

R. Martin Arthur, the Newton R. & Sarah Louisa Glasgow Wilson Emeritus Professor in the Preston M. Green Department of Electrical & Systems Engineering, worked with Cox in the early 1970s.

“I only worked with him in my early days as a new faculty member, but he changed the course of my career,” Arthur said. “He asked me to join him and Floyd Nolle on a paper on digital analysis of the EEG that was published in Proceedings of IEEE and was republished and cited many times. On top of that, I had been doing electromagnetics in my doctoral work, and that paper with Jerry and Floyd channeled my career into image and signal processing.”

Cox recently sent Arthur a copy of Cox’s memoir, “Work Hard, Be Kind.” 

“He was true to that,” Arthur said. “His influence was worldwide. He worked with people all over the world and did it in such a kind, gracious way.”

Cox, the Harold B. and Adelaide G. Welge Professor of Computer Science at Washington University from 1989-1998, was the first chair of the Department of Computer Science & Engineering from 1975-1991. He was instrumental in building a department that has an international reputation for biomedical computing applications and computer networking. With then-department colleagues Jonathan Turner and Guru Parulkar, he founded Growth Networks, a company acquired by Cisco Systems in 2000 that produced an advanced networking chip set and became a model for technology transfer initiatives at the university. In 2007, he started Blendics (Blended Integrated Circuit Systems), to provide system-on-chip design tools and services to companies seeking to develop complex, proprietary, low-power integrated circuits. 

“While we think of people like Jerry as being exceptional in technology, many people don’t understand or appreciate what kind of a human being he was, said Ron Indeck, CEO of Q-Net Security, a cybersecurity firm that Cox founded. “His license plate read, ‘Work hard, be kind.’ If we all followed what he lived, the world would be a better place.”

Indeck, who worked with Cox for 35 years, said cybersecurity is a challenge, but Cox addressed it directly.

“His vision for the company, which we still have today, is to protect critical infrastructure,” he said. “That was so important to Jerry, and he saw that as having the biggest impact on society, humans and life.”

Cox earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from MIT. He was a member of the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine and a fellow of the Acoustical Society of America and the IEEE. He was awarded an honorary doctor of science from Washington University in 2001. His honors also include the 2011 Chancellor’s Award for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which he received with former professor Jonathan Turner, who was the inaugural Barbara J. and Jerome R. Cox Jr. Professor of Computer Science. That same year, he was recognized with the Engineering School’s Dean’s Award.

Cox is survived by three children Nancy (Craig) Battersby, Jerry (Margaret) Cox, and Randy (Patty) Cox; a sister, Anita Hunt; eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Barbara (Bobby), in 2006. 

Memorial contributions may be made to Central Institute for the Deaf; the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis (please designate McKelvey Engineering - Jerome Cox Graduate Fellowship in Computer Science & Engineering); or the Program in Audiology & Communication Sciences Scholarships at Washington University.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Feb. 18 at Bopp Chapel, 10610 Manchester Road, Kirkwood, Mo., with a reception following from 2-5:30 p.m. at the Whittemore House at Washington University, 6440 Forsyth Blvd., St. Louis, Mo.

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