In Memorium: Richard D. Phillips

September 17, 1929 - September 7, 2008

Richard (Dick) Dean Phillips died at the age of 79 on September 7, 2008 from the complications of heart disease and diabetes. Dick is survived by his beloved wife, Betty, of 58 years. Dick was an active figure in Bioelectromagnetics from 1958 to his final retirement in 1997. Dick’s career intersected with and influenced that of many other researchers.

Dick was born in Sacramento, CA, on September 17, 1929. After his freshman year of college, Dick joined the U.S. Air Force where he was a flight photographer flying in B-36 reconnaissance aircraft during the latter part of the Korean War. Dick received his B.A. degree is physiology in 1958 from the University of California at Berkeley and, upon graduation, joined the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory (NRDL) in San Francisco. Members of the staff there encouraged Dick to pursue graduate study, which he did, receiving his Ph.D. in physiology (emphasis on thermal regulation) from Berkeley in 1966. Dick continued his career at NRDL until it was closed in 1969.

Dick then joined the staff of Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories located in Richland, WA, where he (and Ed Hunt) continued work related to the exposure of various biological preparations to microwave-frequency electromagnetic fields and microwave dosimetry. Dick did important work on calorimetry during this period. This research led to the introduction of the twin-well calorimeter, the “platinum-rod” of whole-body dosimetry. It became a key technique of calorimetry allowing “wet-bench” scientists to accurately determine in average SAR values in animals exposed to RF fields. It was adopted by many research laboratories conducting RF bioeffects research.

In 1975, Dick obtained a small contract from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to investigate the feasibility of exposing miniature swine to 60-Hz electric fields. In pursuing this project, Dick enlisted the help of Bill Kaune, a physicist who had just joined Battelle’s Biology Department, Denny Hjeresen, a psychologist at Battelle, and Dick Richardson, a Battelle electrical engineer. This project was successfully completed and was followed by the awarding of large projects from EPRI and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to study biological effects arising from the exposure of miniature swine and rats, respectively, to very strong power-frequency electric fields. During the next nine years, Battelle’s ELF program grew to involve many Battelle scientists and produced many research and review papers, research reports, and two books. During this period, Dick was the Manager of the Bioelectromagnetics Program at Battelle and was ultimately promoted to the grade of Senior Staff Scientist, a rare event at Battelle at that time.

Dick was very highly regarded by the staff he led at Battelle. He was very good at helping younger scientists develop their careers and insuring that they received credit for their work, both outside and within Battelle. Scientific careers in the field of Bioelectromagnetics that Dick helped develop included those of Larry Anderson and Bill Kaune.

Along with his scientific work at Battelle, Dick was heavily involved with various committee assignments and was a Topic Leader in the USA/USSR Scientific Exchange Program on the Biological Effects of Static and Low Frequency Electromagnetic Fields. He visited the USSR several times as a U.S. Delegate and hosted USSR delegates in Richland twice.

Dick played a very important role in the development of safe RF exposure standards in the US. He served as a leading biologist and the secretary of the ANSI C95 Subcommittee IV that developed the ANSI C95.1-1982 American National Standard published by the IEEE. This was the exposure standard that introduced the greatest number of changes and advancements over any other exposure standards in use up to that time. It incorporated much improved safety, reliability, applicability and acceptability based on the highly improved scientific approaches and broad database in use at the time. It included the application of many new concepts such as whole-body averaged and peak SAR, whole-body and anatomical resonance, hot spots, contact currents, different criteria for near and far field exposures, as well as many other changes too numerous to mention here. The major changes and increased complexity of the proposed standard generated a considerable increase of controversies and difficulties in forging the required consensus for acceptance of the new standard. As a contributor of data from a strong interdisciplinary scientific laboratory and based on the great respect and confidence that he enjoyed from his peers, Dick was very instrumental in helping both the subcommittee and parent committee to gain a strong consensus that made the new standard acceptable to a large majority of individual scientists and organizations in the public, governmental, military, industrial and academic sectors of the population.

Dick should also be recognized for his major biological contributions as a member of the NCRP Scientific Committee 53 that produced the first national two-tiered general/occupational population exposure standard published in the NCRP Report No. 86 published April 2, 1986. Dick was able to bring on a previous member (Ed Hunt) and an active member (Dr. Harvey A. Ragan) of his laboratory staff to the committee as advisory members to help provide reviews and analyses of their own work as well as others to include in the report in support of the standard. The first obligatory national standard forged and enforced by the FCC (still in effect) came from the above-mentioned standards.

One of the more important rationales for the USA/USSR exchange program was to seek some kind of harmonization of the USA and USSR exposure standards through mutual cooperative research. The fact that the RF exposure standards of the two countries differed by as much as 3 orders of magnitude was causing considerable public concern and controversy. Many scientists in this country felt that the sharp differences between the US and Soviet standards might well be due to antiquated research methodologies and exposure techniques that could result in artifacts in the research results resulting in erroneous conclusions. Such research artifacts plagued the work in the US when RF-bioeffects research was in its infancy. For research at ELF frequencies, Dick and his staff carefully designed the exposure sources to eliminate the known causes of undesirable artifacts. These included lack of control of temperature, noise, shocks, hair stimulation, induced body currents from contact with water and food sources and a myriad of other problems associated with exposure to high strength EMF fields. Through many blue sky meetings with members of his own interdisciplinary staff as well as help from consulting physical and life science experts from outside of his laboratory, Dick and his staff were able to develop new biological and exposure technologies that markedly reduced artifactual contamination of research results. His laboratories set many benchmarks of excellence that were carefully and thoroughly documented and made available to other laboratories through out the country. Through Dick’s interactions with the Soviets on the exchange program, the latter also enjoyed the fruits of his meticulous work. In two consecutive visits to the Institute of Industrial Hygiene and Occupational Diseases, directed by Professor Boris Savin in Moscow, the American group was very much surprised to see the marked change of a laboratory between the visits less than a year apart. In the first visit the laboratory was filled with artifact prone microwave exposure facilities of WWII vintage. On the later visit the laboratory was observed to have been converted over to an ELF research facility containing newly installed equipment that was nearly undistinguishable from that used in one of Dick’s laboratories for artifact-free long term exposure of groups of rodents. Nothing better could have shown Dick’s value to accomplishing the mission of the exchange program.

Dick was a founding member of the Bioelectromagnetics Society and was the first Chair of its Publicity and Public Relations Committee. Dick also served on the Board of Directors of the Society and was the second editor (1984—1989) of Bioelectromagnetics, the journal of The Bioelectromagnetics Society.

In 1984, Dick decided to leave Battelle and join the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Laboratories in Research Triangle Park. Dick started work at EPA in late 1984, as director of the Experimental Biology Division, which had a large EMF program and staff spread over two branches, each with two sections. In 1987, the Health Effects Research Laboratory under went a reorganization, and Dick became director of an enlarged Developmental and Cell Toxicology Division, composed of three branches, each with three sections, that included staff of his original division. During this time, as editor of the Bioelectromagnetics journal, Dick scrupulously used outside guest editors to manage submissions from EPA employees.

Dick retired from the EPA in 1990 and moved to Spokane, WA where he lived for the remainder of his life. Upon retirement Dick accepted a position with W/L Associates, Inc. (1990—1996) reviewing research projects funded by the U.S. DOE. During the period of March 20-22 , 1991, in Carmel, California, Dick helped to organize and Chair an important workshop on ELF fields sponsored by EPRI to assess current knowledge on health effects and develop a set of recommendations for new research that would meet the needs of health risk assessment. The effort resulted in the publication of Supplement 1, 1992 of the, Bioelectromagnetics journal. The issue contained many seminal papers and recommendations for future research on ELF health effects.

Dick was a member of The Bioelectromagnetics Society, New York Academy of Sciences, International Microwave Power Institute, International Society of Biometeorology, International Union of Radio Science, American Physiological Society, Radiation Research Society, Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine, and Sigma Xi. Dick was listed in the Who’s Who of Science.