Peter Joseph Stopa

[ Age 54 ] Civilian Army scientist made gains in biohazard defense

October 22, 2006|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun Reporter

Peter Joseph Stopa, a civilian researcher with the Army who made important scientific and diplomatic contributions to biological defense technologies, died Tuesday at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, three weeks after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. The Freeland resident was 54.

Since 1988, Mr. Stopa had worked at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, where he helped develop tools that can detect chemical and biological weapons. He was also a lead liaison between the U.S. and Polish militaries in the two countries' coordination of biological defense efforts.

Among his recent accomplishments was leading a team of scientists that developed a portable testing kit that can be used by emergency first-responders to determine whether biological weapons have been used in a military or terrorist attack. The kit is marketed commercially as the BioHaz field system. Mr. Stopa initiated the project after the 1995 sarin attack in the Tokyo subway system.

Mr. Stopa began his Army career in 1983 at Fort Detrick's Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, where a laboratory he established created diagnostic tests for hazardous biological agents that had potential warfare applications.

Although the bulk of his career was spent on biochemical research that had military uses, Mr. Stopa's initial focus was on children's illnesses.

In 1979, he researched pediatric infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, work that led him to the Cockeysville division of medical technology giant Becton, Dickinson and Co., where he was co-awarded a patent for the first commercially available rapid-diagnostic test for streptococcus A, commonly known as strep throat.

Born in Newark, N.J., Mr. Stopa was raised in Wallington, N.J., and attended the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1975 and his master's degree in 1977, both in biochemistry. He was the first U.S. citizen to be awarded a doctorate, in 1999, from the Military Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology in Warsaw, Poland.

In 1979, Mr. Stopa married his best friend's sister, Carol Liskowicz of Dupont, Pa., and they moved to Baltimore that year.

Mr. Stopa was a Boy Scout troop leader for several years and a ham radio aficionado.

"He loved that hobby," said Carol Stopa, a nurse at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. "He was proficient in Morse code and he just loved that stuff."

Mr. Stopa was also an avid sailor and skier, but his work was his abiding passion. His wife said that his first reaction to the cancer diagnosis was regret at not having more time to devote to his research.

"I think there was a sadness that he couldn't complete the work that he had still in his head," said Carol Stopa. "I think he had a lot more to contribute."

A Mass was offered yesterday at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Parkton.

In addition to his wife, survivors include Mr. Stopa's mother, Hedwig Stopa of Timonium; and a brother, Edward Stopa of Providence, R.I.

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