Born in Manhattan in 1929, Kirsch was the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Hungary. Educated at the Bronx High School of Science, New York University, Harvard and MIT, Kirsch worked for five decades as a research scientist at the U.S. National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institutes of Science and Technology).
“My dad, he was a super curious guy, always asking questions,” said his son, Walden Kirsch, who works at Intel in Oregon. “He was an iconoclast. When people said you can’t go there or you can’t do that, he did.”
In 1957, Kirsch created a small, 2-by-2-inch black-and-white digital image of Walden as an infant – among the first images ever scanned into a computer, using a device created by his research team. Life magazine featured the image in a 2003 book, “100 Photographs That Changed the World,” and it’s now in the Portland Art Museum’s collection.
“Anyone involved with computers will tell you how powerful it is for creativity,” Kirsch told The Oregonian in 2007.
Kirsch moved from Maryland to Oregon in 2001. He suffered from dementia but remained a regular at Ken’s Artisan Bakery in Northwest Portland for many years. In the 1960s, Kirsch’s research team did pioneering work in artificial intelligence and Walden Kirsch said he regrets his father was unable to appreciate how prevalent that technology has become.
“At that time that was just a bizarre thing,” Walden Kirsch said. “He was out in the forefront, many, many years before it was a thing.”
Russell Kirsch is survived by his wife of 65 years, Joan, by children Walden, Peter, Lindsey and Kara, and by four grandchildren.
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