Professor’s presentation ends with a twist

Tom Peterson and Mark Griswold
Tom Peterson and Mark Griswold

When President Barbara Snyder told Mark Griswold to keep standing after his presentation last week, he didn’t argue.

It wasn’t only because it was her house and 75 guests were watching.

The last time Snyder made a request without an explanation, Griswold ended up getting an advance look at Microsoft’s then-top-secret HoloLens device—an experience he called “one of the most emotional and impactful events of my life.”

So if the president wanted him to stay at the podium, he absolutely would—with pleasure.

Snyder was talking about a man in the front row, Tom Peterson. He was a generous donor to the medical school, she said, as well as the university more broadly.

Then Griswold heard the president ask if Sherry and Gabe were there. His wife and son stepped out from behind a wall. Snyder kept speaking: the donor was endowing a faculty chair, the Thomas F. Peterson, Jr. Professor of MRI Innovation.

Pending formal approval from the Board of Trustees, Griswold would receive it.

Now Griswold could sit. The rest of the room stood and burst into applause.

Griswold, a professor of radiology, and Peterson, an executive at one company and founder of another, share common qualities.

Each can trace a relentless curiosity to childhood: Peterson filed for his first patent (for a perpetual calendar) at 13, while as a boy Griswold was known for taking apart items that came into the house; he just had to understand how they worked.

Peterson established a home laboratory and continued to invent and publish in peer-reviewed journals for decades. Griswold has led development of a new method of magnetic resonance imaging—Magnetic Resonance Fingerprinting—with the potential to identify diseases dramatically earlier than is possible today.

As was evident at last week’s presentation, Griswold also has become the university’s faculty lead on Microsoft HoloLens, a device that allows the viewer to see detailed holographic images in a mixed-reality setting.

Griswold and his colleagues are exploring the technology’s capacity to provide medical students unprecedented views of organs and systems as they learn anatomy without cadavers.

From the start, though, Griswold has emphasized broader applications: Students could see ancient sculptures in their original form, visualize complex chemical reactions, understand how different materials and designs affect a bridge’s sturdiness—the list is nearly endless.

For his part, Peterson returned early from MIT to help with the family firm, Preformed Line Products. His father had founded the firm in 1947 after inventing an advanced protective rod to cover conducting lines for electric utilities.

Yet the younger Peterson also had a passion for photography that had been inspired by one of his MIT professors, Hal “Doc” Edgerton, later renowned for his work with strobe lighting devices and contributions to sonar technology.

Even as Peterson Jr. continued to support his father’s enterprise, he also pursued this emerging art. He eventually founded Motion Picture Sound, Inc., which provided audio services for corporate and government projects as well as Hollywood movies like A Christmas Story.

After someone introduced Peterson to Griswold several months ago, each visited the lab of the other. They exchanged phone calls regarding research and intellectual interests. Ultimately, Peterson was moved to endow a professorship in Griswold’s areas of expertise.

The HoloLens presentation at the president’s house had been scheduled months earlier. The timing seemed perfect for a surprise announcement. When asked, Peterson agreed. As it happened, his 80th birthday was the following day—why not celebrate by offering someone else an unforgettable gift?

As the two smiled for pictures later that evening, it was hard to tell who enjoyed the moment more.

One point was certain: More discussions about discovery definitely await.