Obituary: Dennis Rosen

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The Independent Culture
IN RECENT years, writing grant applications and being assessed for everything under the sun leaves little opportunity for research scientists to take the traditional broad view. It was very different in the first two or three decades after 1945 when there was indeed time and opportunity to diversify. Dennis Rosen was just such a post-war scientist, with wide interests which he channelled progressively into issues of the public understanding and education of science.

Born in London in 1928, he was all ready on 1 September 1939 to join Dame Alice Owen's School for Boys in Islington, north London, but instead became one of those little lads with suitcase and gas mask who were evacuated with their schools as hostilities started - in his case to Bedford. As a teenager his interests grew in science and, following a period of National Service in the RAF, he went up to Cambridge in 1948, to read Physics and Mathematics. His research career started with an MA and later a PhD from the Physics department of the Institute of Cancer Research in London, where he spent six years, from 1951 to 1957, as a research student.

Biophysics was an emerging area of research in the 1950s, a time when the effects of radiation on living things were being studied intensively, especially in the hope of improving cancer therapy. It was important to understand the subtle changes in large biological structures following X-irradiation and Rosen began to look at its effects on proteins.

After a year in Uppsala, working at the Gustaf Werner Institute for Nuclear Chemistry on the effects of gamma-rays on human serum albumin, he became Research Associate at the Chester Beatty Research Institute in London. He is remembered by co-workers then as a stimulating and charming colleague who somehow found time to study the effects of electrical and magnetic fields on the growth of fungal hyphae. This became the pattern of his subsequent career. It was typical of him that he should know and want to quote the Gentleman's Magazine of the 1790s in one of his papers and was prevented from so doing only by the referees.

He then spent a sabbatical year in Leiden (1963-64), working on the electrical properties of macromolecular and conducting solutions, before taking up a lectureship at Chelsea College where (later as Reader) he remained until that college joined with King's in the hectic round of London University mergers in the 1970s and 1980s.

With an extremely broad range of interests, his recurring theme was medical physics and bioengineering both in teaching and research. He was known best for his work in high-speed pattern recognition, and his developments in computer-aided searching of medical photographs were incorporated into the EMI body scanner, which stands as a leading symbol of the applications of science to medical technology.

Rosen set up an excellent two-year MSc course in Biophysics and Bioengineering. His own research became centred mainly on image analysis and particularly on the development of automated pattern recognition systems for the analysis of cervical smears; this remained his ongoing focus. Unfortunately, his work was interrupted by the closure of the Physics departments of both Chelsea and Birkbeck Colleges, so frustrating the development of his research; he began to devote himself to wider issues.

Conscious of the need to bring the public into the world of science and scientists, with his wife Sylvia he published London Science - the museums, libraries and places of scientific, technological and medical interest (1994). He worked together with the Committee on the Public Understanding of Science and helped to set up the London/ South-East England section of Euroscience, a Europe-wide movement to encourage greater public appreciation of scientific issues.

Concerned about scientific fraud, on which he wrote a number of articles, he was tough on those he regarded as quacks and enjoyed using his rigorous thinking when the opportunity arose to cross swords with them. Always keen to join the sciences with the arts, he would purchase paintings at auction and display them in the college common rooms.

After retiring formally in 1993, he found a congenial niche in the Image Processing Group at University College London, where he continued in his studies in that area (and continued to be awarded research grants). A member of the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution, he was a prominent figure in arranging lectures, particularly those on scientific themes; he also instituted and organised the annual Science Week, part of the National Science Week organised by the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Vivian Moses

Dennis Rosen, biophysicist: born London 30 June 1928; Research Associate, Chester Beatty Research Institute, London 1957-62; Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Reader, Chelsea College, London University 1964-85; Reader in Biophysics, Birkbeck College, London 1985-91; Honorary Research Fellow in Applied Physics, University College London 1991-99; married 1954 Sylvia Maxwell (two sons, one daughter); died London 7 June 1999.