B. Neil Cuffin, an expert in biomagnetism — the process by which humans and other organisms produce magnetic fields — died July 21 in Florida after a struggle with cancer of the jaw and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) virus. He was 74 years old.
Cuffin received his PhD in electrical engineering in 1975 at Penn State University, where he wrote his thesis on modeling the electric and magnetic field of the human heart under the direction of David Geselowitz. Cuffin came to MIT as a postdoc in David Cohen’s Biomagnetism Group at the Francis Bitter Magnet Laboratory, where he eventually become a principal investigator in his own right. He worked with this group for 21 years until it was phased out in 1996, at which time he transferred to the Epilepsy EEG Group at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, under the direction of Donald Schomer. In 2003, Cuffin retired to Florida.
The Biomagnetism Group at MIT sought to measure and understand the weak magnetic fields produced by the organs of the human body. Cuffin, the main modeler and theoretician of the group, was a pioneer in both the forward problem (calculating the external magnetic field from electrical sources in the body, such as the heart and brain), and the magnetic inverse problem (calculating the internal sources from known external fields). Usually supported by National Institutes of Health grants, he developed and published numerous papers on inverse solutions for the magnetoencephalogram, an imaging device that measures magnetic fields in the brain, and became an international leader in this area. Although he later pursued an interest in the electroencephalogram at Beth Israel Deaconess, he is most widely remembered for his work on the biomagnetic inverse problem.