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Monday, November 10, 2008

Vaegan RIP 2008

Today I was stunned to learn of the untimely and unexpected death of a major contributor and true character in the specialized field of Visual Electrophysiology, the field in which I also work. He also happened to be an Australian, like myself. There are not many of us in this field.

I initially met Vaegan in 2000 when he hosted the first Australian edition of the ISCEV Conference in Sydney. I was quietly impressed that somebody could rise to pre-eminence in a conservative medico-scientific field with only one name! Too cool! I also learned he was man of great knowledge, strong opinions and drive and a source of some controversy with that. Further I learned of his love for the Australian bush when took us on a walking tour of North Head.

I spoke to him only a few times but his small compliment following my presentation at the ISCEV meeting in Hyderabad in 2007 when I sat back down next to him has stayed with me. It can be quite intimidating presenting at a Scientific Meeting and any positive feedback is appreciated. Especially when it comes from Vaegan!

Unfortunately I will not have the opportunity of getting to know him any better. He died it seems in the manner he lived. Pushing himself on a strenuous bike ride in support of MS research. I don’t know the details and I suppose that is not the important part except that we were both cyclists and when a cyclist dies by mishap in the saddle, there is a personal significance. A sad reminder of our vulnerability and the potential consequences. However, the important part is that he will be remembered as a man who made his mark and there is no doubt that all of us who came into his orbit will remember that. There is also the need to publicly express our regret and offer condolences to his family and close friends.

So this blog and the photos of Vaegan at ISCEV conferences in Glasgow (ISCEV Olympics - Red Jacket Right ) and Hyderabad (Dressing Competion - Left) is my small testimonial.

I never knew him well enough to write an appropriate epitaph but this quote from Tom Verlaine’s “The Scientist Writes A Letter” will do. “Electricity means so much more to me, We men of Science”. It probably is not funny enough for Vaegan, but I think we know its truth.

*ISCEV – International Society for Clinical Electrophysiology of Vision –

I have subsequently found some biographic details ( from about the year 2000


Vaegan (Ph.D. Psychology and Optometry, University of NSW, 1977) began by studying illusions, eye movements and bin-ocularity. Since his post doc with GB Arden and David Taylor at Moorfields Eye Hospital and Colin Blakemore and Peter Watson at Addenbrooks Hospital Cambridge, he has worked mainly on the electrodiagnosis of optic nerve disease, both in clinical populations and animal models. He is widely credited with designing the first objective forced choice contrast sensitiv-ity test, quantifying of the critical period for development of vision in humans and with the introduction of the pattern electro-retinogram as a unique clinical index of optic nerve function. He has shown there are choroidal, blue cone and electroretino-gram losses as well as nerve loss in glaucoma. After the death of his close friend Prof. Fred Hollows, who was Australian Of The Year in 1994, Vaegan went into private practice in visual electrodiagnosis. He has recorded from patients with many types of retinal disease. Vaegan is an active participant in ISCEV, the International Society for Clinical Electrophysiology of Vision, has sat on most of its standards committees, has just run their annual conference and is editing a journal issue on animal models of clinical electrodiagnosis. He is a member of the ARVO animal ethics committee and a regular referee to several major vision journals."

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