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BY DAY, Atif Zafar, MD ’94 & BA ’89, is a mild-mannered professor of clinical medicine at Indiana University. Yet beneath this Clark Kent facade lurks a man who has invented a way to pulverize plaque from artery walls with radio frequencies and electrical current— which could make angioplasty and stents a clumsy workaround for treating heart disease. He’s also writing a novel about the life and work of Nikola Tesla, father of the alternating current that lights and powers our globe.
What advice do you have for current UB students? “If I knew then what I
Broaden your horizons! Take interesting classes outside your main discipline. They may help you in ways you can’t imagine yet. Atif Zafar
That’s what keeps Zafar busy in his off-hours. During the day, he has been refining and promoting voice recognition technology to let medical caregivers dictate information on individual patients immediately into an electronic database, in real time as they work, which he hopes will fuel the growth of a national medical data bank—enabling a quantum leap in accuracy and quality of care. He thanks the UB Libraries for his polymath life—it’s where he learned not only how to find exactly what he knew he wanted to learn, but also to chance upon widely divergent fields, such as, yes, electrical engineering.
—David Dorsey with photo by Douglas Levere, BA ’89
What do you think is different (both better and worse) for students today compared with when you went to UB?
I think it’s a lot easier to access information in general. Mobile devices and the Internet have made that possible. These devices are as powerful as yesterday’s supercomputers so simulations and calculations can all be done on them instead of the university’s mainframe computers, which is what we used to use.
If you could have had one technological advancement/device here now that wasn’t around in the 1990s, what would it be?
Favorite UB class or professor?
Evolutionary Biology taught by Professor Clyde Herreid.
How did UB influence your life and career?
It had a major impact on my life and career choice. I matured intellectually and socially in the environment, learned to seek out and find information, and learned how to network. I also gained tremendous leadership skills by participating in multiple student organizations as president and by working as a tour guide for the university.
Would you still select the same major if you had to do it all over again?
I would add a third major (electrical engineering).
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Proudest moment since graduating?
Developing my first patent—it’s for a third forward-looking catheter-based ultrasound device.
When was the last time you visited UB?
Two days before Christmas!
Last book read? Do you use an e-reader?
Jack DuBrul’s “The Medusa Stone”—I am into historical fiction and am writing my own novel that is tentatively titled “The Seventh Anomaly.” It will be based on some of the discoveries of Nikola Tesla that were never commercialized.
How did you do your homework and/or research papers before Google or the Internet?
Spending a lot of time in the library reading books and journal articles. Homework was done by consulting the class notes and textbooks. In fact, the UB Libraries allowed me to browse in a way I can’t on the Internet. In the library, everything is there. You can just pick it up and look at it. On the Internet you have to know the search term to discover something. At the library, I would pick up a journal that looked interesting. I didn’t need to know anything about the field. I learned to appreciate computational linguistics. It wasn’t related to my major at all, but later on in my work with speech recognition, it came in extremely handy.
What do you miss most about your time as a student?
I loved UB during my undergrad years and felt I could spend a lifetime taking interesting classes. I was completely comfortable in the environment and felt challenged and experienced my intellect evolve. I felt I would flourish here academically and be able to work at my own pace without artificial barriers or limitations.
What’s your impression of the university today?
It has evolved and flourished, and I wish I could go back now and do it all again! It’s bigger and better now.
Do you keep in touch with UB friends today?
With a few. It’s been hard to keep in touch, but Facebook has made it a lot easier to find them!
Any distinct memories about Buffalo winters?
The first time my car skidded in the middle of a busy intersection!
About the authors: David Dorsey is a Rochester-based freelance writer whose credits include Esquire and Fast Company (Dilek Cindoglu, Dexter Johnson, Atif Zafar); Grace Lazzara is a Buffalo-based writer and public relations strategist (Andra Ackerman, Gwen Howard, Bridget Cullen Mandikos); Mara McGinnis, BA ’97, is executive director of communications at Pratt Institute and a New York City-based freelance writer (Randy Asher, Steve Marchese, Rodney Sharman).
David Dorsey is a Rochester-based freelance writer whose credits include Esquire and Fast Company (Dilek Cindoglu, Dexter Johnson, Atif Zafar); Grace Lazzara is a Buffalo-based writer and public relations strategist (Andra Ackerman, Gwen Howard, Bridget Cullen Mandikos); Mara McGinnis, BA ’97, is executive director of communications at Pratt Institute and a New York City-based freelance writer (Randy Asher, Steve Marchese, Rodney Sharman).