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In memoriam: Dietrich Lehmann, 1929 - 2014

Footnote: This obituary was originally published in Brain Topography on 01-09-2014, doi: 10.1007/s10548-014-0390-6, and is published here with the kind permission of the publisher, Springer Science+Business Media LLC.

Dietrich LehmannWe regret to announce the passing of our esteemed colleague, mentor and friend Dietrich Lehmann on June 16, 2014. He filled his 85 years with a passion and determination that could have continued for many, many more.

Dietrich Lehmann was a pioneer of EEG mapping. What is today elaborately termed high-density EEG or electrical neuroimaging, he had already implemented over 40 years ago. He was decades ahead of his time and had a hard time convincing a community focused on EEG waveform analysis about the views and methods he had developed that turned out to be state-of-the-art thinking in 2014. In 1969 -- 45 years ago -- he published, together with Derek Fender, a case report in the journal Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology where dipole source analysis was applied to averaged 48-channel visual evoked potentials on a patient with a split chiasm. Two years later, in 1971. he published the seminal paper entitled “Topography of spontaneous alpha EEG fields in humans” in the same journal that ultimately established the term EEG topography and paved the way for innovative spatial analyses of the electric field at the scalp.

Dietrich Lehmann was born on December 3, 1929 close to Heidelberg, Germany, where he completed his medical studies and received the MD degree in 1957. After internships in neurology in Heidelberg, Munich, Freiburg, and Marseille, he moved to California in 1963. He began as a research fellow at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), moved as senior researcher to the Californian Institute of Technology (CalTech), and finally became associate professor and acting chairman of the Department of Visual Science at the University of the Pacific in San Francisco, California. Papers from this period on sleep and somnambulism (Nature), visual perception (Science), and evoked as well as spontaneous field topography (Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology) already document not only his large impact and broad range of interests, but also the emerging focus of his EEG work on spatial analysis. In 1971 he accepted the appointment to the Department of Neurology at the University Hospital in Zurich, where he became Professor for Clinical Neurophysiology in 1988. He retired in 1997, but not before founding, in 1995, the KEY Institute for Brain-Mind Research at the University Hospital of Psychiatry in Zurich, where he remained scientific director until his death.

Besides his unremitting dedication to the spatial analysis of the EEG, Dietrich’s scientific interest focused on the ongoing fluctuation of the spontaneous neuronal activity of the human brain, its relation to daydreaming, its influence on perception, and its modulation in psychiatric diseases. He discovered that the spontaneous EEG as well as event-related potentials could be divided into continuous segments of stable spatial configurations of the electric field. He named these segments “functional microstates”, many years before the imaging community invented the terms “resting states” and “task states”. He proposed that these spatially stationary microstates might be the basic building blocks of information processing, possibly reflecting the time for consciousness -- the “atoms of thought”. A large number of studies have examined (and continue to examine) the significance of these microstates and their modification in different diseases. Dietrich’s own work demonstrated microstate modulations in schizophrenia and also during sleep, hypnosis, and meditation, reflecting altered states of consciousness, which he found endlessly fascinating. The functional significance of microstates is still a hot topic and the subject of intense research.

Dietrich Lehmann was a fascinating personality with an insatiable and far-reaching thirst for knowledge and truth. He would discuss the ins and outs of theories of a biological basis of consciousness with the same insistence as he would argue about the proper seating of a subject in an experiment. He tirelessly fought for what he was convinced to be right and challenged those who presented, in his view, arguments that lacked a solid foundation, either in what was assumed to be true, or in what was to be considered as a-priori impossible, often supported by his sharp humor and skillful drawings. At the same time, he was as free and unorthodox about the hypotheses he considered worth pursuing as he was obsessed with methodological rigor and in-depth understanding of his own research. When publishing with him, reviewer comments were regularly far less challenging than Dietrich’s restless quest for perfection.

Dietrich was not a man for small-talk, and he did not like superficial people. For most who knew him, he was not only the inspiring true scientist, but also a particularly kind, modest, resourceful, and compassionate friend or mentor. His desire to understand the brain signals that he recorded did not diminish over the years. On the contrary, one of the last things he said to his wife and long-term scientific collaborator Martha Koukkou-Lehmann was, “It is too early. There is still so much to do in science.”

We wish to express our deepest condolences to Martha and to their daughters Phedra and Thalia, Dietrich’s son Marco, and the rest of the family. We will treasure Dietrich Lehmann in our memories forever.

Christoph M. Michel, Geneva, Switzerland
Daniel Brandeis, Zürich, Switzerland and Mannheim, Germany
Herbert Witte, Jena, Germany
Jiri Wackermann, Freiburg, Germany
Kieko Kochi, Osaka, Japan
Lorena Gianotti, Bern, Switzerland
Pascal Faber, Zürich, Switzerland
Patricia Milz, Zürich, Switzerland
Roberto Pascual-Marqui, Osaka, Japan
Thomas König, Bern, Switzerland
Toshihiko Kinoshita, Osaka, Japan
Werner Strik, Bern, Switzerland
Wolfgang Skrandies, Giessen, Germany

Jože Trontelj,
June 1, 1939-Dec 9, 2013

Our friend and colleague Jože has ended his days, much too early.
His impressive CV is, in brief:

Classical High School, Ljubljana – graduated with excellence in 1958
Medical Faculty, Ljubljana University – graduated in 1964
Specialized in Neurology, interested in Neurophysiology, with educational visits to Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, and Academic Hospital, Uppsala, Sweden
PhD - ” A study of reflex activity of single spinal motor neurones in man” - 1972
Professor of Neurology, Medical and Health Faculty, Ljubljana University - 1996
Senior health counselor (advisor to Slovenian Health Ministry) since 1995
In 1979 he established the Department of Neurophysiology at Ibn Sina Hospital, Kuwait and worked there periodically until 1992.
Member Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SASA) - 1995
Secretary of SASA Section of Medical Sciences – 1999-2002
Vice-president of SASA - 2002
President of SASA – 2008
Republic of Slovenia Medical Ethics Committee - 2004
Slovenian delegate, European Council Bioethics Steering Committee – 1995 (co-operated in drafting the Oviedo convention and its protocols)
Member, Culture Strategic Board of the Slovenian Government – 2005-2008
Chairman of the Slovenian Health Council – 1996-1998
Member, Standing Committee of the Science & Ethics Board of the All European Academies (ALLEA) - 2010
Member, International Bioethics Committee (IBC) (Nominated by the Unesco General Secretary) - 2010

He was awarded several high Slovenian state awards:
  • Boris Kidrič Foundation for Science in 1974 and 1980
  • Kidrič award for highest achievements in science in 1989
  • “Science Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia” in 2003
  • “Golden Order of Merit” for his endeavors and achievements in science and ethics (awarded by the President of Slovenia) in 2009.
He was the first of Erik Stålberg´s students to visit Uppsala to learn SFEMG in 1967 and brought the technique home to Ljubljana, where he implemented it very successfully. With his observant eye he saw things not previously noticed, and refined and extended SFEMG not only within his own lab, but internationally. His scientific contributions are impressive, and many have learnt from him the gentle handling of the electrode and precise interpretation, open for the unexpected. His special interest was stimulation SFEMG. Among other publications, he was co-author of 3 editions of a monograph on SFEMG.

Jože devoted much of his time to bioethics in recent years. This was not only committee work, but he spread his knowledge in the field in many articles and in lectures. With a broad understanding of human nature, he was the right person to approach with difficult questions. Jože was a true humanist and people listened to his wise comments.

The SASA, of which he was still President, plays an important role in Slovenian society. Jože´s interest in science in general and in cultural and historical aspects made him the right man for this position. In spite of the fact that he liked it and felt the importance of helping his country in this field, to an outsider, it seemed to be a heavy burden.

Many of us saw Jože not only as teacher and scientist, but also as a friend. With his head held slightly to the side and with a constant smile, he saw us all individually. His warm-hearted appearance made the times we had together great moments in our lives. Many have in these last days commented on his humble and kind appearance. This image will remain in our minds, and we are thankful for all he gave us.

Jože was very close to his family, loved them, his home, his neighbours. He was a caring husband, father and grandfather. Our thoughts go to his wife, Tatjana, and the entire family. They have been his constant support and helped him enjoy his life so much.


Erik Stålberg
Don Sanders