Memories of Neil Gehrels





Message:
I entered the field of high-energy astrophysics some 20 years ago, from a completely different sector, and you were one of the first colleagues I met. You were always gentle, and tolerant to my naivety; always generous with your explanations. A kind, nice and bright person. Many of us had the chance to learn a lot from you, and this survives.

Added: February 11, 2017
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I have known Neil since I arrived at Goddard as an NRC Fellow in 1997. Neil was not only a phenomenal scientist and PI but also one of the kindest, humblest, and most generous people I have had the honor to meet. He helped me personally on many occasions as he has done for many other young scientists. I am glad that he was able to come to South Africa for the HEASA 2016 meeting; I had no idea at the time that that would be the last time I would see him. I am greatly saddened by his loss.

Added: February 11, 2017
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It was impossible not to admire Neil. He was a brilliant scientist, one the top leaders in the field. But first and foremost, he was a wonderful person, always friendly and positive. I met him on many occasions, at LAT collaboration meetings, conferences, summer schools. We chatted over a broad range of topics, from science to politics and outdoor activities. I enjoyed these moments very much. I was amazed by how much Neil enjoyed life and had a large range of interests beyond science. As an anecdote, during a diner in Montpellier, he told us that the day before he went dancing tango at one of the local dancing schools. Like many of us in the LAT collaboration, I considered him as a friend. I will deeply miss Neil.

Added: February 11, 2017
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I interviewed Neil on many occasions as a journalist, especially for stories in Science magazine on Swift, GRBs, and basically anything super-explosive in the cosmos. He was wonderful to interview: always responsive, gracious with his time, and crystal-clear with his explanations. Neil always recognized the value of doing these conversations, and I greatly appreciated his generosity and easy-going nature over the years.

Added: February 11, 2017
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Twenty some years ago I was at a conference on the island of Capri with Neil. Several of us decided to rent a boat to explore the grottos around the island. We were deciding when we should go, and someone mentioned that the weather was going to be bad for some of the days. Neil said something like "never change your plans because of the weather.” At first I was taken aback by this reckless attitude, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked this philosophy. Weather predictions are frequently wrong, and if it rains, you can always put on your raincoat. Plus you might get to see a rainbow. I’ve since decided to expand “weather” to include a variety of external factors outside my control, as I think Neil did too. Neil was always so positive and never deterred by "bad weather". I will miss Neil, but I know his inspiration and influence live on.

Added: February 10, 2017
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Neil had the great gift to make everyone feel welcome and valued within what were sometimes large collaborations. He treated you the same way whatever your status, and you knew that your views and interests were important to him. I worked him mostly via the Swift project, which he led with skill and tact. Swift is perhaps his greatest legacy, and will long be given as an example of how to get a project right from the start.

Added: February 10, 2017
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I met Neil 30 years ago and we shared many scientific adventures together with a warm friendship.

I knew I could always count on Neil's support and this was just great.

The last thing we did together was the organization of the Conference to celebrate Swift 10th anniversary.

He had accepted enthusiastically the idea I had proposed together with Gianpiero Tagliaferri to held the conference in Italy.

It took place at Rome University in Dec. 2014 and was a great success. The anniversary gift was a painting entitled Cosmic explosion which was donated to Neil by a young Italian artist. Needless to say, Neil was very happy as one can see from the interview published by Media INAF. Indeed we asked Media INAF to publish again this happy moment together with our note of mourning for Neil untimely death (see url on the side).


Added: February 10, 2017
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I started working with Swift in Italy in 2006 for my first post-doc, and I first met Neil the following year at a meeting in Amsterdam.

His enthusiasm was infectious and he was an exceptional leader for the Swift team. I can't really express how much his absence will be felt.


Added: February 10, 2017
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It is an immense loss for our scientific community. We have lost not only a great scientist and our best ambassador, but also a friend. Neil has helped us build the SVOM mission and has always shown unwavering support.

Amidst all his qualities, Neil was a first and foremost a visionary who showed us the path of the time domain astronomy. He will be remembered as an example for many generations of scientists, and in particular our youngest ones.

With every new burst we think of him, we miss him already...

Bertrand on behalf of the SVOM collaboration


Added: February 10, 2017
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Neil was a great science leader. I knew him for over 13 years as the Swift PI. He was inclusive and decisive, and his approach paid great dividends in the very substantial impact of the Swift mission. He was an energetic man who liked to say 'yes'.

His passing was announced formally at the Royal Astronomical Society in London, at a specialist discussion meeting on Timing and Spectroscopy in the New Era of X-ray Astronomy on the 10th of February; a minute of silence was held. Neil was made an Honorary Fellow of the RAS in 2016.


Added: February 10, 2017
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