Robert Barlow Jr.

It is with sadness that we announce the passing of Robert Barlow Jr., who died Thursday, December 24 in Syracuse, New York, after a battle with leukemia. Bob was a pioneering vision researcher and protégé of Nobelist H. Keffer Hartline, and has been an integral member of the MBL research community since 1963. He was also a key member of the MBL leadership, having served as a trustee from 1981 to 1985 and again from 1987 to 1992, and as MBL Corporation member for his entire MBL career. He was the director of the Center for Vision Research at SUNY Upstate Medical University and a professor of ophthalmology and biochemistry and molecular biology at the university.

The MBL flag will be lowered in his memory.

Bob dedicated his career to understanding the eye and brain connections that produce sight. Much of his work focused on studies of the neural networks in the visual system of the horseshoe crab, which has a large optic nerve that makes it an excellent model animal for basic studies that can elucidate human vision and vision disorders. These studies led to insights about how the eyes are involved in circadian rhythms and to a hypothesis that metabolic stress, such as high blood glucose levels, might be a cause of degenerative eye diseases, including macular degeneration. Bob was recognized widely for his contributions to vision research. He was awarded the President’s Award for Excellence and Leadership in Research at Upstate Medical University in 2002, the Senior Scientist Award-Research to Prevent Blindness in 2005, and State University of New York Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities in 2007. In 2009, the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology named Bob a Gold Fellow, an honor it gives individuals for “exceptional contributions to ophthalmology and visual science.”

Bob came to the MBL in 1963 as a student in the Physiology course. Soon after, he became a student of Keffer Hartline, who won a Nobel Prize in 1967. Hartline introduced Bob to the visual system of the horseshoe crab, a model Bob continued to use for much of his career. When his research career was firmly established, Bob served on the faculty of numerous MBL courses, including Neurobiology, Neural Systems & Behavior, Methods in Computational Neuroscience, and Fundamental Issues in Vision Research. He was also an active supporter of the MBL Grass Fellows. Bob was actively involved in the leadership of the MBL, having served as a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees (1988-1992), Chairman of the MBL’s Annual Fund (1991 to 1997) and a member of the MBL Discovery Campaign Steering Committee (1997 to 2000).

Bob’s love of life and Woods Hole was palpable. He was an avid sailor and swimmer, who in the summer of 1978 broke the record for a 4-mile swim from Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard. He later helped turn the swim into a fundraiser for the Doreen Grace Fund, which helped establish the Doreen Grace Brain Center, where Bob was a director. He will be greatly missed at the MBL and in the Woods Hole community.

Bob leaves his wife Patricia and his three children, Kimberly, Jill, and Jack, as well as seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren. The family will hold a private service for immediate family members. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Bob’s name to the MBL or to the Vision Research Fund at the Upstate Medical University Foundation in Syracuse.