Wendell Lutz, Ph.D., Wittenberg class of 1966, was recently presented with the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) Gold Medal, given only to those who have made significant impacts in the field of radiation oncology.
A medical physicist, engineer, inventor, and educator whose contributions have led to exceptional advancements in radiation oncology, Lutz was presented with the award during ASTRO’s annual meeting on Oct. 25, in San Antonio, Texas.
"As a medical physicist, being recognized by ASTRO astonishes me," said Lutz, who found out in June that he was going to be a recipient of the award. "This Gold Medal award is the highest recognition I have received. I am truly honored. I knew that I had been nominated, but I certainly didn’t expect to receive the award.”
Having experienced an illustrious career that spans decades, Lutz, a Springfield native, earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Wittenberg. The study of physics was a natural one for Lutz since his father, the late Arthur Lutz, was a professor of physics at the University for more than 30 years, including a lengthy stint as chair of the department. Wendell received his Ph.D. in nuclear physics in 1973 from Purdue University before moving to Iran to teach physics at Pahlavi University. He also taught physics at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, for five years before taking the opportunity to train with medical physicists at Harvard's Joint Center for Radiation Therapy in Boston.
Lutz was able to work under the leadership of Bengt Bjarngard, Ph.D., and Samuel Hellman, M.D., in partnership with Ken Winston, M.D., at Harvard to develop an impactful contribution to the field of radiation oncology – a linear accelerator-based stereotactic radiosurgery system. This technological system was a precision technique to deliver high-dose radiation in single fractions to the brain, and it ultimately paved the way to pinpoint treatments in other areas of the body. Commercialized variations and improvements in this technique have been adopted worldwide and have benefited thousands of patients.
Lutz’s innovative mind also led him to create many quality assurance techniques and devices, including the Lutz lsocenter Checker, the Lutz Phantom, and the Lutz Stereotactic Box. His professional career has been a diverse one and includes holding faculty positions at Harvard Medical School, the University of Arizona, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York City. Currently, he is consulting with two start-up companies on using beta radiation to treat wet macular degeneration and advanced glaucoma eye disorders.
“The ASTRO presentation to Wendell was the society’s Lifetime Achievement award for his work in radiation oncology, and he is one of few physicists to ever receive the award,” said Lutz’s friend and colleague Michael Senich, Wittenberg class of 1972 who served on Wittenberg's Board of Directors (2004-2016) with Lutz. He also helped Lutz’s wife, Nancy, prepare a reception the night before the presentation of the ASTRO award.
"I have known Wendell for over 20 years, and he has always been consummately passionate about Wittenberg and beyond humble in terms of what he has done in his profession,” Senich explained. “I attended the reception for Wendell in San Antonio and was in awe of the cross-section of experts in the field of radiation oncology who were there to offer their heartfelt congratulations. I understood then the impact Wendell has had on his field and on the lives of so many that owe their success to his teachings and collaborations.”
Highly decorated throughout his career, Lutz has received numerous awards and honors including the Edith H. Quimby Lifetime Achievement Award in Medical Physics from the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, and a distinguished alumnus award from both Wittenberg and Purdue, as well as from the Springfield City Schools. In 1992, Harvard endowed the Winston-Lutz Fellowship in his and Winston's honor. While at MSKCC, Lutz was also honored with the Best Teacher Award and the Association of Residents in Radiation Oncology Educator of the Year award.
Lutz, who served on Wittenberg’s Board of Directors from 2011 to 2019, continues to maintain his passion for Wittenberg, and regularly returns to campus from his home in Tucson, Arizona. He has said that the two awards he received from Wittenberg – Honorary Doctor of Science in 1991 and Alumnus of Distinction in 2002 – are among his most cherished.