Memories of Neil Gehrels





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Neil was an outstanding scientist and a remarkable person. As a scientist, he had a vision which led him to « grow » from a brilliant gamma-ray astronomer, to a world leading GRB scientist, and then to a major player in the development of time domain astronomy. As a person he was astonishingly easy to reach despite his great responsibilities, he always found the time to advise young scientists and more experimented colleagues within his incredible professional network. Neil was a truly unique person and a bright example, we will miss him.

Added: February 16, 2017
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I am shocked by the sudden passing of Neil. Throughout my entire professional life, I had the privilege of working together with Neil. In the beginning on Compton-GRO, most of the time, however, on INTEGRAL.

With his profound scientific knowledge and his experience managing complex space science projects, Neil provided invaluable support to the design and development of the INTEGRAL observatory mission from the first day onwards. Nuclear spectroscopy with GRIS and NAE, technology development of high-resolution Germanium detectors and his experience as Project Scientist of NASA's Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory were key contributions to the development of the INTEGRAL observatory mission.

Neil served as a member of the ESA science study teams during the early Assessment Phase in 1990/91 and during the Phase A 1992/1993. After selection of the INTEGRAL mission by ESA in 1993, he was appointed Mission Scientist, representing NASA and the US high-energy astrophysics community, as early as 1995. From that point onwards, he continuously served, for more than 20 years, as a member of the INTEGRAL Science Working Team, which became later the INTEGRAL Users Group.

Among the various tasks which were taken up by Neil was the creation and maintenance of the INTEGRAL US Guest Observer Facility established at HEASARC/GSFC and his key contributions during the design and development of the Core Observing Programme of the INTEGRAL Mission.

Neil's ideas, scientific advice, contributions and critical reviews through all phases of the mission development, were of great value and importance for the mission.

I will miss Neil, his kindness and expertise. A very dear colleague and a great high-energy astrophysicist.


Added: February 15, 2017
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I knew Neil when I was an undergrad working in the Space Radiation Lab at Caltech... I remember how he was a great guy to be around, brilliant, cheerful and encouraging to the rest of us. He and Ellen were welcoming to everyone, and I remember their wedding fondly. My condolences to his family.

Added: February 13, 2017
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I’m privileged to have worked under Neil’s leadership sphere here at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center since he assumed the CGRO project scientist role in 1991. I’ve witnessed firsthand his seemingly effortless problem solving abilities, his exceptional scientific and strategic instincts, his skills in building consensus among well-intentioned but oft opinionated professional colleagues and his ever-present warmth and humility. The example he has set has helped me strive to be a better person. Words cannot express the magnitude of this tragic loss to NASA, the scientific community and humanity. For now we can only mourn this loss and hope for a future era when the world is free from the ravages of cancer.

Added: February 13, 2017
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Neil was a great person, a great and inspiring scientist. He had also a deep "humanity", always taking care of others, and a kind person. He leaves a tremendous record of achievements, and we will deeply regret and remember him.

Added: February 13, 2017
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I was sitting in one of my first Gamma-Ray Burst conferences when the chair announced the next speaker: he called “Mr. GRB”. Neil entered the room. I knew Neil was the PI of a very successful mission (Swift), and he was a big name in the GRB community, but what I didn’t know was that he was very friendly and nice with everybody. I immediately saw his warm and joyful attitude, especially with the younger scientists. In the following years, I started to know Neil better. I had the fortune to work with him, and I realize how incredible he was, being able to manage an enormous amount of e-mails, and being able to reply to every single of them, in a matter of a few hours (if not instantly). I also had the opportunity to spend time with him outdoors and I became aware of his passion for rock climbing.
As a climber myself, I was inspired by his rock climbing adventures, some of which truly amazing.
The Nose is one of the most famous climbs in the world. It follows the massive prow of "El Captain", in Yosemite National Park, towering nearly 3000’. This route offers 31 pitches of superb climbing, right in the middle of one of the most iconic rock formations. The climb is hard, long, and takes several days of vertical life to summit. Neil climbed this route several times, optimizing the way to efficiently progress to a point that he could climb the route alone, without a partner.
I guess that was just an example of how tough he was, and I bet he did it all with a big smile in his face.
Once he told me that he rappelled the entire route with his daughter; from the top, all the way to the bottom. This was an adventure that not only was terrifying and hard, but he did it with his daughter, blessing her with once in a lifetime experiences.
I saw him, not only as the scientist I always wanted to be, but also the climber and the person I want to become.
It is unbelievable to think that Neil is no longer with us. He is the only person, ever, that made me want to become like him. I will always remember him.


Added: February 12, 2017
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Neil was the Tall Center Pole holding up the Big Tent.

Neil and I started off in the low-energy cosmic ray group at U Az, overlapping in the early 70s. He was still considering his possible music career while jumping into physics.

Back then neither of us could have imagined that we would wind up at Goddard for all the big adventures in gamma-ray astrophysics. That was the best part of my life, working with Neil.


Added: February 12, 2017
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Deep respect and sympathies for Neil Gehrels, his wife, and science family. Neil was one of the forces behind the RATIR instrument and an inspiration for much of the research I'm doing today. But above all, he was a great person that had a genuine interest in each person he met with beyond the science.

Added: February 12, 2017
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What a shock to lose your good sense, calm persistence, and deep administrative acumen. The SSAC meetings will not be the same without you. To me you were the bedrock of those meetings. I could always depend on Neil to get a sensible answer to hard questions that I would ask, and follow through on serious issues. We will miss you in many ways. My sincere condolences to your family.
Elliott


Added: February 11, 2017
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Far too soon. You leave a gaping hole that will never be filled. RIP

Added: February 11, 2017
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