Michael Steinmetz, Ph.D., director of the NEI Division of Extramural Science Programs (DESP), passed away on July 30 following a boating accident.
Steinmetz joined the NEI in 2007 as director of the Strabismus, Amblyopia, and Visual Processing Program. He was named director of DESP in 2014 and stepped up as acting deputy director of NEI from 2017-2018.
“During his 15-year NEI career, Dr. Steinmetz’s influence expanded well beyond the institute. His legacy made a difference in vision and neuroscience programs throughout the National Institutes of Health,” said NEI Director, Michael F. Chiang, M.D.
Steinmetz served on several NIH committees. Early involvement of NEI in the NIH BRAIN Initiative and NIH Blueprint was in large part due to his vision of NEI’s potential for helping guide neuroscience research.
He spearheaded NEI support of the NIH Common Fund’s High-risk, High-reward Research Program. He also championed a partnership between NEI and the Department of Defense to address gaps in the treatment of eye injuries among civilians and military veterans.
At NEI, he was the guiding force of the Audacious Goals Initiative, the early successes of which are due in no small part to his insights and motivation.
More recently, he mobilized efforts to put the NEI strategic plan into action by starting trans-NEI working groups for implementation.
He was a true leader in how DESP functions, supporting his staff and the full breadth of science that NEI funds. Somehow, he knew vast amounts about the science across the entire NEI portfolio.
Prior to joining NEI, Steinmetz came to NIH in 2003 as a referral officer and scientific review officer for the central visual processing and the cognitive neuroscience study sections in the Center for Scientific Review.
Prior to joining NIH, Mike was part of the neuroscience department at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. In 1994, he helped establish the Johns Hopkins Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute in 1994, where he studied visual processing in primates.
Steinmetz earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Michigan and a master’s in biology and a Ph.D. in physiology from Michigan State University.
“Above all, Mike was a gentle and exceptional mentor, always taking the time to offer his support and guidance to colleagues. His sense of humor made everyone feel at ease. He exuded a genuine kindness that felt like a gift to everyone who had the privilege of working with him,” said Sangeeta Bhargava, Ph.D., director of clinical trial research in DESP.
Outside of work, Steinmetz enjoyed a rich life that included his family and many friends. His passion was scuba diving and teaching others how to dive. Several DESP staff are certified divers because of him.
Mike is survived by his wife, Susan, and his daughter, Sarah Heisey, a family therapist in Delaware, who married in May 2021.