Oct. 31, 1939 – March 2, 2019
Robert E. Baier, an internationally renowned biomedical engineer and distinguished professor at the University at Buffalo, was in the forefront of numerous scientific investigations on how surfaces interact with one another. His genius was in seeing how they could be applied somewhere else.
When he was studying ways to eradicate zebra mussels from the Great Lakes, he was impressed by how well they attached themselves to things.
“I may be the only person here who wants to keep some zebra mussels around,” he told Buffalo News reporter Michael Levy in 1991. “The tremendously sticky adhesive they use could be very important in dentistry – for adding braces and tooth implants – and in surgery, for healing without sutures.”
He did research for the Navy, which led to non-toxic coatings to keep marine creatures off the hulls of ships, and for numerous Fortune 500 companies. His work on symptoms of dry eye disease helped lead to the development of Systane lubricant eye drops, artificial tears that do double duty by maintaining the protective film on the eye.
He also helped develop titanium dental implants, which are used worldwide. He did research leading to a mouthwash that removes plaque from teeth.
He held many patents, wrote hundreds of research papers and gave numerous lectures on a variety of scientific topics.
In 2011, Science Citation Index reported that other researchers had cited his work more than 2,700 times. His most cited paper was “Adhesion: Mechanisms that Assist or Impede It.”
At a talk in Syracuse in 2007 about developments at UB’s Industry/University Center for Biosurfaces, where he was director, he touched on non-allergenic hotel rooms, diesel fume pollution inside school buses, how heating and ventilating systems can spread mold and microbes in health care facilities, and the discovery of a type of fiberglass that doesn’t hurt the lungs.
His work also included surface chemical studies on contact lenses, prevention of bed sores and developing an implantable artificial liver.
Honored as a distinguished professor at UB in 2010, he died Saturday in Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Amherst, after a yearlong illness. He was 79.
Born in Buffalo, he was a 1956 graduate of Hutchinson Central Technical High School, where he studied industrial chemistry.
He spent two years at Buffalo General Hospital as a surgical technician operating heart-lung machine and dialysis equipment and earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Cleveland State University in 1962.
He completed his doctorate in biophysics at UB in 1966, then did post-doctoral training in surface chemistry as a National Academy of Sciences fellow in the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. He became a licensed professional engineer, first in Ohio, then in New York.
Mr. Baier then spent 16 years as a researcher at Calspan Advanced Technology Center, becoming principal physicist and doing work on chemical and biological defense for the military.
After several years as an adjunct professor in the UB Dental School, in 1984 he became executive director of the New York State Center for Advanced Technology in Health-care Instruments and Devices at UB.
He stepped down from that post in 1989, but continued as co-director and later executive director of the Industry/University Center for Biosurfaces, supported by the National Science Foundation.
He also was professor of biomaterials in the Department of Oral Diagnostic Sciences in the UB Dental School, a volunteer professor of ophthalmology, an adjunct professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and director of the biomaterials graduate program.
In addition, he was a research associate professor in UB’s graduate school division at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. He also was an adjunct professor, faculty associate or consultant at Empire State College, Columbia University, Cornell University and Clemson University.
He helped found the Society for Biomaterials, was an early winner of its Basic Science Prize and later served as president.
He received numerous awards and prizes, notably a honorary doctorate in odontology from Lund University in Sweden in 1994 for his work on dental implants. That same year he was elected founding fellow of American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, later serving as its vice president.
A 30-year veteran of the Naval Reserve, he retired as a captain in 1996.
Survivors include his wife of 57 years, the former Corinne Bongiovanni; two daughters, Valerie Maxwell and Anne Marie Perno; and two grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9 a.m. Friday, March 8, in St. Benedict’s Catholic Church, 1317 Eggert Road at Main Street, Eggertsville.