In Memoriam

In Memoriam: Robert Becker

Robert Otto Becker, whose early opposition to high-voltage power lines because of suspicions about health effects initiated a controversy that remains unsettled to the present day, died May 14 in New York at the age of 84.

Becker’s career began with studies of the “currents of injury” and the role of electric stimulation to regenerate limbs and bones (with the late Andrew Bassett, a BEMS d’Arsonval Awardee). In 1963, he reported a correlation between geomagnetic activity and psychiatric admission rates. Later, in a 1967 article in the journal Nature, Becker and colleagues examined the possible impact of magnetic fields on human reaction times. He also reported, in 1981, on a possible link between power frequency magnetic fields and suicide rates.

Becker may be best known for his testimony at a hearing related to plans of New York power companies to build two 765,000-volt powerlines in New York. At that hearing, he and one of his staff, Andrew Marino (presently a professor at Louisiana State University Medical Center in Shreveport), described various physiological effects in rats and mice exposed to electromagnetic fields comparable to those associated with powerlines. These results were substantiated by EPRI ten years later.

Becker’s evaluation of US Navy studies performed in connection with its plans to build submarine communication systems (Project Sanguine, later Project Seafarer, and the Project ELF) led to his appearance on 60 Minutes, conflict with Phillip Handler, then the president of the National Academy of Sciences, and forced his retirement at the age of 56 (Details of these events are in The Electric Wilderness by Andrew Marino and Joel Ray (San Francisco Press, 1986)).

Dr. Becker attended Gettysburg College and the NYU School of Medicine. He completed a residency in Hanover, N.H., and served in the Army medical corps in the early 1950s. In 1956, he joined the SUNY Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse where he served as a professor of surgery and later as chief orthopedist at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Syracuse, NY. He authored two books about EMF: “The Body Electric” (1985, focusing more on therapeutic regeneration) and “Cross Currents: The Promise of Electromedicine, the Perils of Electropollution” (1990).

He is survived by his wife, three children, and two grandchildren.

In Memoriam: W. H. Fletcher

William Henry Fletcher, a professor of anatomy at Loma Linda University in Redlands, CA, who pioneered work with gap junctions, especially the role of connexin43 in heart development, died on May 8 in Loma Linda, California at the age of 67.

Dr. Fletcher collaborated with BEMS members Craig Byus, the late W. Ross Adey, and BEMS past president Richard Luben to study the effects of modulated RF and ELF exposures on gap junctions. His work was reported at several BEMS and DOE/EPRI Contractors Review meetings in the mid 1980s.

Dr. Fletcher earned a doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley in 1972 and went on to do post graduate work at Duke University School of Medicine (North Carolina) and at the Universite Libre in Brussels (Belgium) under a National Institutes of Health Fellowship. Fletcher was a faculty member at the University of California at Riverside then moved to the Loma Linda University (LLU) School of Medicine. In 1985, he was invited to become an independent investigator at the Jerry L Pettis Memorial VA Medical Center while teaching at LLU. While there, he performed and published groundbreaking research uniting biochemistry, physiology, structural, cell and molecular biology with clinical medicine, with a special emphasis on cellular communication via gap junctions.

Recipient of numerous merit and career development awards, he is survived by his wife, his son, and his daughter.