Nov 12, 1999

Scientists mourn loss of gifted colleague

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Dr. Jan van Paradijs, 1946-99


Nov. 12, 1999: Astrophysicists in Huntsville and around the world are mourning the death on Nov. 2 of Dr. Johannes "Jan" van Paradijs, one of the world's leading astrophysicists. Van Paradijs was the Pei-Ling Chan eminent scholar in astrophysics at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) since 1993, and was professor of astronomy at the University of Amsterdam. He worked with the Burst and Transient Source Experiment Team (BATSE) at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.
Friends and colleagues of Dr. van Paradijs are invited to a memorial celebration of his scientific career at 3pm, December 1, in the Chan Auditorium of the Administrative Science Building, located on the Campus of the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
"Jan was one of the most knowledgeable, productive, and wide-ranging workers in our field, a master of both observational and theoretical high-energy astrophysics," said Dr. Jerry Fishman, the BATSE principal investigator at NASA/Marshall. "He was at or near the top of everyone's list of the world's greatest astrophysicists."

Dr. Charles Meegan, a BATSE co-investigator, noted van Paradijs's personal and professional qualities.

"I will remember Jan not just as an outstanding astronomer, but mostly as a delightful person to be with and talk to," Meegan said. "He had wide-ranging interests, a lively sense of humor, and an infectious joie de vivre. What most impressed me, though, were his courage and dignity in the face of adversity. He never succumbed to despair or self-pity but continued to work on papers and review articles as long as he was able. His friendship has enriched the lives of many, and he will be greatly missed."

Many of those whom he enriched were students he taught at UAH.

"For me, working with Jan was extremely rewarding," said Tim Giblin, one of van Paradijs's graduate students at UAH who work with the BATSE team at NASA/Marshall. "In the months before his death, our ideas came together beautifully and culminated into a new insight regarding the relation of gamma-ray bursts and their afterglows. It saddens me to know that we will never have this opportunity again.

Van Paradijs (left) receives the 1998 Bruno Rossi Award from Gordon Garmire on behalf of the American Astronomical Society. Credit: AAS. Van Paradijs at work at NASA/Marshall in early 1993 during BATSE observations aboard the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory.


Web Links
Prestigious Rossi prize in Astrophysics awarded to Dr. Jan van Paradijs for discovery of optical counterparts to Gamma-Ray Bursts.
Discovery may be "Smoking Gun" in Gamma Ray Burst Mystery. March 31, 1997. UAH Scientist at NASA/Marshall Leads International Team of Discovery
When stars go hyper. Oct. 28, 1998. Different kind of nova ends not with a whimper, but with a bang.
Looking for pulsars living in the fast lane. Sept. 21, 1998. Scientists using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory hope to find a few more of these short-lived powerhouses.
"In addition to being an extraordinary scientist, Jan had a special and rare ability to bring out the best in a student. He was remarkably successful in shaping and molding students of today into tomorrow's scientists. I believe this to be his true legacy."

"Jan had an incredible work ethic which, I believe, demonstrated how much he loved his job," said Pete Woods, another UAH graduate student. "He was very good at putting things in perspective for me and keeping me focused on the task at hand. In my experiences with him, he was always very patient, even when explaining something to me for the third time. Jan was a great mentor who always seemed to have time for his students, no matter how busy he was. I will miss him both professionally and personally.

"I was always struck by Jan's love for science, by his unique way of thinking about problems, and by his ability to focus on the important issues in discussions with him," said Dr. Tom Koshut, who studied under van Paradijs as a student and later worked with him as a colleague. "I'll miss him for that, and I hope that I can remember some of the valuable
lessons I learned from him. But most of all, I'll miss him dearly as my friend and I know that I'll always treasure the special memories that he's given me."

Van Paradijs received the 1998 Bruno Rossi Prize, the highest award presented by the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society, for his role in finding the first optical counterpart to a gamma ray burst.


Right: In The Netherlands, van Paradijs poses with several colleagues from Huntsville. From left are: Dr. Gerald Fishman, Dr. Bill Pacieses of UAH, Dr. Mark Finger of NASA/Marshall, van Paradijs, and his wife, Dr. Chryssa Kouveliotou.

He earned his undergraduate and doctoral degrees from the University of Amsterdam. Except for two years when he was a post-doctoral fellow at MIT's Center for Space Research, he was either a research scientist or a faculty member at the University of Amsterdam since 1970.

He published more than 300 scientific papers, edited over eight books, and continued working in the field through his nearly year-long battle with cancer. Even though in great pain in his final weeks, he wrote a "Perspectives" article in October in the journal Science on possible links between gamma ray bursts and supernovae. He was chair of last month's Fifth Huntsville Gamma Ray Burst Symposium, held just three weeks before he passed away. Fishman noted that van Paradijs desperately wanted to attend the meeting but could not due to his failing health. He did send a taped greeting to his friends and colleagues at the symposium.

Van Paradijs served on the boards of directors of the Netherlands Foundation for Research in Astronomy and the European Astrophysics Doctoral Network, and was a member of several scientific organizations.

Van Paradijs is survived by his wife, Dr. Chryssa Kouveliotou, an astrophysicist with the Universities Space Research Asociation at NASA/Marshall, and by two children, Oskar van Paradijs and Deirdre van Bunnik-van Paradijs, and by three grandchildren.


Includes material from the American Astronomical Society.


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