Daniel Fiat, 1930-2019

ISMAR mourns the passing of Daniel Fiat, the Founder of the International Society of Magnetic Resonance, who died in Israel on October 7, 2019.  For nearly 50 years since his impetus to establish ISMAR, Daniel has been closely identified with all aspects of the Society’s development.  He was already looking forward to ISMAR’s 50th anniversary conference in 2021. 

The rationale for ISMAR began with the first three international meetings in NMR organized by individuals or small ad hoc groups in 1965 (Japan), 1968 (Brazil) and 1969 (Australia).  At the 1968 meeting in Sao Paolo, Daniel volunteered to organize a conference in Israel in 1971, an offer that was readily accepted by the participants.  He soon discovered that financial support would be facilitated if the conference were to be sponsored by a permanent international organization.  After consulting widely with leaders in all aspects of magnetic resonance, Daniel formulated a broad proposal to establish ISMAR as an organization to disseminate knowledge of magnetic resonance and foster interactions among MR scientists throughout the world – an idea enthusiastically endorsed by participants at the 1969 conference in Australia.  From there on, Daniel moved ahead vigorously to set up an organization with a broad-based international Council, which he chaired.  Scientists interested in magnetic resonance were encouraged to join the Society.

Daniel led the organization of the August 1971 conference in Israel (Rehovot and Jerusalem), which attracted many pioneers of magnetic resonance on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the discoveries in NMR by Bloch and Purcell.  Felix Bloch presented the first ISMAR Prize to Erwin L. Hahn.  This very successful conference set the standard for subsequent ISMAR meetings.   It was actually the first to be held under the auspices of ISMAR, but in deference to the earlier international MR meetings, it is regarded as the fourth ISMAR Conference.

Under Daniel’s leadership, ISMAR sponsored a number of schools and symposia on various aspects of magnetic resonance.  He was instrumental in establishing the Bulletin of Magnetic Resonance.  Over 20 years, the Bulletin published individual research papers and the proceedings of the triennial ISMAR Conferences.  Daniel insisted that the Conferences be widely dispersed geographically; following the 1971 meeting in Israel, the next conferences were held in India, Canada, the Netherlands, the U.S.A. and Brazil.  He was dedicated to using ISMAR to promote open communication among scientists, especially during the “cold war” era.  Daniel delighted in presiding at the openings of ISMAR conferences and presenting the ISMAR Prize.  During 15 years as Chairman of the Council, he was truly a one-man driving force in establishing and expanding ISMAR.

The development of ISMAR was not without problems.  During the early 1980s, a number of ISMAR members, led particularly by Oleg Jardetzky, insisted on modifications in the ISMAR structure to encourage greater participation by members and a larger number of officers elected for relatively short terms.  The issue was how to obtain these objectives while retaining the widely recognized values of ISMAR.  I recall receiving a number of phone calls from both Daniel and Oleg, laying out the problems, and I am sure others interested in ISMAR received such calls.  Eventually Felix Bloch personally became involved in developing a solution.  The result was a new constitution for ISMAR – essentially the same framework that exists today – which was adopted at the ISMAR Conference in Chicago in 1983.  Raymond Andrew was chosen as the first President of ISMAR, while the office of Founding Chairman was established, with Daniel Fiat serving permanently on the Council and offering his help and advice to retain ISMAR on its general path.  Daniel took this position very seriously and contacted many officers regarding problems that he saw.  When I became Secretary General of ISMAR in 2005, I very quickly received phone calls and email from Daniel pointing out specific areas where ISMAR practice was not strictly following the constitution, and also advancing many ideas to improve the Society.  Sometimes officers found Daniel to be overly insistent, but he was almost always correct!  He never stopped trying to make ISMAR ever better.  We owe Daniel a great deal for conceiving and developing our Society.

Daniel was very proud of the professional accomplishments of his wife, Mina, and his children.  I think he was equally proud of his other “child” ISMAR.

Daniel received a D.Sc. degree in Physical Chemistry from the Israel Institute of Technology in 1960 and held postdoctoral appointments at Princeton University and the University of California, Berkeley during the early 1960s.  He was on the staff at the Weizmann Institute of Science from 1964 to 1975 before moving to the University of Illinois, Chicago, where he spent the rest of his career.  He published widely with emphasis on 17O NMR, beginning in the 1960s with early studies of metal hydration and electron transfer.  During the last 20 years he was particularly interested in the use of 17O in vivo NMR and MRI to help elucidate metabolic pathways.

Ted Becker, National Institutes of Health