Stanford University mural pays tribute to Indian-American professor

RITU JHA

Two Stanford University doctors and researchers have dedicated a mosaic mural as a tribute to their colleague Dr Sanjiv “Sam” Gambhir, 57, who passed away July 18 from cancer.

Dr Gambhir, MD, PhD, was a professor and chair of the Department of Radiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

The mural has been put up by Dr Sandip Biswal, a musculoskeletal radiologist and researcher in the Molecular Imaging Program that Gambhir created at Stanford, and Dr Edward E. Graves, associate professor, Departments of Radiation Oncology and Radiology (by courtesy), Stanford University.

Dr Biswal and Dr Graves shared with indica News how Dr Gambhir influenced them and how the idea to build a mosaic mural tribute originated.

Dr Biswal said that for the past 15 years, he has been the unofficial photographer for the Department of Radiology at Stanford University. Anytime there was a Stanford Radiology event, he would walk around taking pictures of colleagues, staff, their loved ones, and would try to capture the essence of the events.

When Dr Gambhir arrived at Stanford in 2003, he brought a very upbeat, electric energy to their world and it was palpable at these events, Dr Biswal said.

Sam, after all, was the young, hot ticket in our field as he was one of the thought leaders and leading scientists in a new field in medical imaging called molecular imaging,” Dr Biswal said.

I really enjoyed taking pictures at these events because I really wanted to try to capture the excitement and love that Sam had created.”

He said he clicked thousands of pictures of the “Stanford family.”

Dr Biswal said Dr Gambhir would often tell him to stop taking pictures and enjoy the event. Dr Biswal would insist on taking pictures because he wanted to photo document events that would celebrate science, clinical work, collegiality and the hope that “we can help those suffering from disease.”

Dr Gambhir had a running joke at these functions.

You’re only taking pictures because you don’t want to socialize with anyone, right?” Dr Gambhir would tell Dr Biswal, who would respond: “You know me too well, Sam! You know my little dark secret! And…by the way, can I get a picture of you?”

Talking to indica News, Dr Biswal reminisced: “We would have a nice little laugh and he would always graciously thank me for taking these pictures.”

Dr Biswal eventually came to learn that Dr Gambhir really enjoyed these pictures. Dr Gambhir created a website, a repository of the pictures, and he also had two large monitors placed in the hallway near his office that cycled through the photos of recent events.

Recalling how kind and generous Dr Gambhir was, Dr Biswal said: “He replaced my professional DSLR camera, lens and flash when it was stolen from my car several years ago.”

He added: “I thought what better way to depict Sam than show him to be a composite of all the wonderful individuals whose lives he has touched and the large and growing Stanford radiology family that he helped create.

I, unfortunately, was very busy with work and life and never got around to it in a meaningful way despite some early attempts. When he [Dr Gambhir] fell ill I gave the idea some urgency.”

In January, he started working on the idea. Dr Biswal reached out to his friend, Dr Graves, asking him if he thought it was a good idea or a silly one.

Perhaps it was fate…. Dr Graves, the genius, who is also a member of the Molecular Imaging Program at Stanford, said he had previously written a program to prepare such a mosaic,” Dr Biswal said.

The 36″ X 24″ mosaic was printed on metal and presented to Dr Gambhir and his wife, Aruna, in February 2020.

Included in the photomosaic are not only members of department, hospital and research groups, but also several images of Sam, Sam’s wife, Sam’s son (Milan) and even Milo, their dog,” said Dr Graves.

He said Dr Biswal curated the photos and he updated and tweaked code to improve its ability to replicate a source image.

They used a library of approximately 8,000 tile images, from which 2,400 were selected by the algorithm to fill the slots in the mosaic.

The code required approximately four hours to resample all the tile images to the appropriate resolution, and then approximately 30 minutes to process each tile slot and identify the tile image that best fit.

Dr Graves said the idea of representing Dr. Gambhir as the composite of all the lives he has touched and influenced resonates on a personal level.

Sandip and I both find ourselves lost in the mosaic on the occasions that we stop to look at it. In perusing the individual tiles, we can find photos that recall fond memories as well as portraits of old colleagues,” Dr Graves said. “It becomes hypnotic after a protracted viewing, transitioning between being an abstract photo of Sam and a summary of the last 20 years of Stanford Radiology.”

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