Memories of Neil Gehrels





Message:
I came to know Neil in 2004, during the year of the launch of Swift. At that time I was a postdoc at the Penn State University, where the Swift mission operation center is located. I still remember his talk from that time about the Swift-Burst Alert Telescope (BAT) and his joke about using an oversized door key to calibrate the gamma-ray image in BAT. Neil was also the chair of the Fermi-Large Area Telescope (LAT) Collaboration's Senior Scientists Advisory Committee and we, LAT collaboration members, tremendously benefitted from his guidance on various scientific issues. He also threw his support for many ground-based robotic optical telescopes across the world to promptly follow up on gamma-ray bursts and other transient events. Neil and I worked closely together to write a review article on gamma-ray bursts back in 2013. Although he was focusing on observations and I was on theory, I found it extremely rewarding to work with him as his knowledge in the field was impeccable.

Neil accepted immediately when we invited him to give a talk at the High Energy Astrophysics (HEASA) 2016 conference at the SAAO in Cape Town (August 25-26, 2016). We are very fortunate indeed that he managed to come down to South Africa and give a wonderful talk.

His absence will be felt dearly among the space-based astronomy community as well as ground-based transient follow-up communities across the world. This is indeed a great loss for us.


Added: February 8, 2017
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Neil will leave a long-lasting, significant mark in my life, both as a person and as a scientist.

First of all, Neil was a gentleman. He was always soft-spoken, kind and supportive to the young and senior, men and women alike. Despite his prominent figure, position and role, and his multiple commitments, he would remember and greet everybody with a big smile and would never show any sign of arrogance or even just condescendence.

Secondly, Neil was a great scientist. Without mentioning his many research and career achievements, his leadership of the Swift spacecraft operations was beyond service, it was rather a full-time personal engagement. The result is one of the most successful, probably *the* most successful, X-ray scientific missions in history. I dare say that Swift did to the astronomical community what the advent of TV made to humanity: just like TV represented a revolution in broadcast information and entertainment, Swift brought X-rays within easy reach of every astronomer. The merit goes to NASA, to the hundreds of people working for the good outcome of the satellite operations, but most of all, to Neil and his tireless coordination of the large Swift team.

In a sense, Neil was a "performing artist" of science: performing artists manage the most difficult interpretations yet making it appear as if it were the easiest task in the world. I was mostly impressed by Neil when, about a decade ago, in discussing with him the first Swift results, I asked him how he could manage such constant attention to the operations, timely reaction to all requests of observation, and the quick decision-making process. His answer was: "Oh, it's a lot of fun". I will never forget this lesson from Neil: never loose heart in front of difficulties and hardship, smile, focus on problems, solve them, and get going.


Added: February 8, 2017
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Difficult to believe that such a Important Scientist and a Great Man is no longer with us, ciao Neil

Added: February 8, 2017
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Great Leader, great friend. Goodbye Neil

Added: February 8, 2017
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Neil's death is a terrible loss to high-energy astrophysics and to Science in general. When I first met Neil I was a graduate student at the University of Heidelberg in Germany and Neil came over to give a colloquium about early Swift results. I was impressed by his enthusiasm and scientific depth and his talk certainly contributed to me coming to the US to work on Fermi-LAT. When I got to know him better I found Neil to be a warm-hearted, open and deep personality who always was eager to help younger scientists to advance and find their place in the larger science community. I will miss him dearly.

Added: February 7, 2017
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A great scientist and collaborator all will miss him.

Added: February 7, 2017
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