University of Rochester

Ultrasound Expert Robert Waag Named Yates Professor

March 7, 1995

Electrical engineer Robert C. Waag has been named Arthur Gould Yates Professor of Engineering at the University of Rochester.

Waag, an internationally recognized researcher in the use of ultrasound in medicine, is studying ultrasonic wave propagation and scattering to improve medical diagnosis. His research focuses on a problem especially prominent in American medicine: getting clear, high quality images of internal organs by eliminating the blur caused by tissues, such as fat, that are closer to the body surface.

Ultrasound works in the body much like sonar works underwater: A wave hits an object, then bounces back, carrying with it useful medical information about tissue and organs. But when waves travel inside the body, they go through different kinds of tissue that degrade them. This makes good images harder to obtain.

"Using ultrasound to look through tissue is like looking through the irregular glass of a shower door," says Waag. "The glass distorts light waves, so shapes behind it are changed." This is one of the biggest challenges physicians face today, since just a little fuzziness in the wrong place can mask an abnormality. The blurring effect is a particularly serious problem for organs deep inside the body.

Waag's research has yielded new information about the way the body distorts sound waves, and he is working on ways to compensate for this distortion. Another goal is to refine methods for using ultrasound to identify different tissue types by analyzing the way they scatter sound. A key to his work is the use of powerful computers to handle the complicated mathematics needed to clean up and analyze ultrasonic images.

"Dr. Waag has been years ahead of his time studying this problem," says Kevin Parker, chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering. "Approaches he pioneered years ago are now being adopted by others around the world and may soon result in improved patient care."

Waag has received the prestigious Joseph H. Holmes Basic Science Pioneer Award given by the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine. He is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Acoustical Society of America, and the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine. He formed the Diagnostic Ultrasound Research Laboratory Industrial Associates, a consortium of companies that follow the research in his laboratory. A graduate of Cornell University, Waag joined the University's faculty in 1969 and is a professor in the departments of electrical engineering and radiology.

The Yates Professorship was established in 1927 in memory of Arthur Gould Yates, a Rochester businessman who was a University trustee. tr Note to editors: Waag is a resident of Brighton.