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Industrial and systems engineering professor Ben-Tzion “Bentzi” Karsh dies

August 21, 2012 By Christie Taylor

Ben-Tzion “Bentzi” Karsh, a professor of industrial and systems engineering who also earned three degrees from UW–Madison, died Aug. 18 after an 18-month battle with cancer. He was 40 years old.

Karsh first arrived at UW–Madison in 1989 as an undergraduate, majoring in psychology and only touching on engineering in an elective course in industrial engineering. But it was that class that set his future. “It had sort of shown me the light,” he said in a profile written in 2001. “I was so interested in it, and that’s why I decided to pursue a master’s and Ph.D. in industrial engineering.”

He earned master’s and doctoral degrees in industrial engineering in 1996 and 1999, respectively, from UW–Madison. He spent his postdoctoral fellowship studying how quality improvement programs affect nursing home patient care and employee job satisfaction, and designing better tools and technologies for small-scale farmers. He joined UW–Madison as an assistant professor in 2000. Karsh earned tenure in 2007 at the age of 35, and became a full professor early in 2012.

Karsh’s research focused on reducing medical errors, a leading cause of death particularly among children and the elderly, and optimizing human interaction with technology in health care settings. Known as one of the leading thinkers in applying human factors to healthcare systems, he was invited to lecture about medical errors and related topics worldwide, and his papers are routinely cited as some of the best in the world.

He also was a passionate teacher and mentor, taking students to hospitals to meet health care providers and patients. He was among the first engineering professors to videotape his lectures, and he taught summer and online courses for healthcare professionals. Under Karsh’s guidance, more than half a dozen students earned their Ph.D.’s; he once said that of all his accolades, he was most proud of the Ph.D. students who earned awards and fellowships under his mentorship.

Karsh and his wife, Arielle, have two children, Nadav (3 years old), and Emmanuelle (19 months). In lieu of flowers, the family has established college trusts for Emmanuelle and Nadav through EdVest. To contribute, contact either the family, or Industrial and Systems Engineering Professor and Chair Vicki Bier.

A funeral service was held Aug. 20.