Richard “Dick” Setlow of East Quogue, a biophysicist recognized internationally for his research on DNA damage and repair, and a senior scientist emeritus at Brookhaven National Laboratory, died on April 6. He was 94.
Dr. Setlow graduated from Swarthmore College and received a Ph.D. from Yale University. He was on the faculty of Yale as the director of undergraduate studies in physics and biophysics and later became the scientific director of biophysics at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Tennessee. At Brookhaven he was chairman of the biology department and associate director of life sciences. He was an adjunct professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
In the 1960s, Dr. Setlow and colleagues discovered that DNA defects caused by ultraviolet light lead to biological damage. He showed that cellular enzymes could repair these defects. His groundbreaking research led the way to an understanding that genetic diseases and cancers can arise from deficiencies in DNA repair. In the 1990s, Dr. Setlow and his colleagues found that all ultraviolet wavelengths of sunlight cause malignant melanoma. Soon after, sunscreens were formulated to protect against both the long-wave “UVA” and short-wave “UVB” rays.
He was involved in studies to identify the results from light-induced chemical reactions in skin cancer cells. He also worked with collaborators analyzing compounds in sediments around Long Island Sound. In addition, he worked on assessing the biological risks of space travel, particularly in preparation for possible future missions to Mars.
He received a doctorate of science from York University in Canada and an honorary doctor of medicine from the University of Essen, Germany. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and received several prestigious awards, including the U.S. Department of Energy’s Enrico Fermi Award, the Environmental Mutagen Society Award and from the Photobiology Society.
Dr. Setlow was not only a great scientist, he was an unusually caring individual who always took time to listen and consider and help others, survivors said.
He is survived by his wife, Neva; children, Peter and wife Barbara, Michael and wife Patricia, and Kate Obrien and husband Fred; stepchildren, Nicholas Delihas and wife Susan, Marcia Hermus, and Cynthia DiGiacomo; a sister, Barbara Simon and husband Nathan; six grandchildren; four step-grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Memorial donations may be made to Swarthmore College, www.swarthmore.edu/swarthmorefund.