Remembering Evangelia “Litsa” Micheli-Tzanakou

A former IEEE board member, Dr. Tzanakou was a pioneer in biomedical engineering education

28 September 2012

Evangelia “Litsa” Micheli-Tzanakou, a long-time IEEE volunteer and member of the IEEE Board of Directors, passed away on 24 September after a long illness. At the time of her death, Dr. Tzanakou was a professor emeritus and former director of the Computational Intelligence Laboratories in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Rutgers University, in Piscataway, N.J. From 1990 to 2000, Dr. Tzanakou was chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Rutgers, where she established one of the first and most renowned biomedical engineering undergraduate programs in the United States.

zanakou Photo: IEEE

 She received a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1969 from the University of Athens. Dr. Tzanakou went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees, also in physics, in 1974 and 1977 from Syracuse University, in New York. She devoted her professional career to image and signal processing as it applies to biomedicine, information processing in the brain, artificial neural networks, and biometrics.

Among Dr. Tzanakou’s many IEEE volunteer activities were her services as division 10 director from 2005 to 2006; IEEE vice president,  Educational Activities, 2008; chair of the Awards Board, 2002 to 2003; and chair of the Medal of Honor Committee, 2004 to 2006.  She was elected Fellow of the New Jersey Academy of Medicine in 1986, and IEEE Fellow in 1992 (“for contributions to the application of neural networks to the analysis of the operation of the visual system”), and Founding Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering in 1993.

Dr. Tzanakou was co-author of "Biometrics: Theory, Methods, and Applications" (Wiley-IEEE Press, 2010)She was the author of Supervised and Unsupervised Pattern Recognition: Feature Extraction and Computational Intelligence (CRC Press, 2000); and co-author of the highly popular Neuroelectric Systems (New York University Press, 1987).  She also served as an editor for the Springer/Plenum Press Biomedical Engineering Series, and published more than 280 scientific papers with co-investigators and students.

Of special interest and significance to Dr. Tzanakou was the emerging field of biometrics. She was one of the first academics to write on the subject, and one of the founders of the IEEE Biometrics Council

During her tenure as vice president, Educational Activities, she had initiated and led the effort to create the IEEE Certified Biometrics Professional program. This was a large-scale effort, viewed by some as too ambitious for IEEE at the time. The project involved more than 50 experts in the field, and required wide consensus among them on the establishment of new authoritative definitions, framework, and vocabulary in an emerging and diverse field. In spite of the skepticism she had encountered in the early stages, Dr. Tzanakou was able to navigate this complicated endeavor to its successful conclusion—the Biometrics Certification Program she envisioned is now a standard and popular offering of IEEE.

IEEE volunteers and staff members who have worked with Litsa will remember her passion about IEEE awards and IEEE outreach activities, her optimism, her advocacy of biomedical engineering and the incorporation of life sciences in IEEE, and her persistent and unyielding pursuit of the Biometrics Certification Program. She was an ardent promoter of IEEE’s causes and programs, and her enthusiasm made her personal ambitions identical to her IEEE ambitions. Her many IEEE volunteer and staff friends will also remember her humanity, good humor—especially when plans seemed to go awry—and her inclusiveness and interest in students and younger members, for many of whom she has served as a devoted mentor and a source of inspiration.

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