viernes, 3 de agosto de 2007

Address by Cathie Clarke at the Memorial Service of Eduardo

Address by Cathie Clarke at the Memorial Service of Eduardo Delgado Donate, Churchill College Chapel, June 30th 2007.

We are here today to remember Eduardo - not because we don't, each of us individually, remember him often - but because it's good to do this together, to share our memories and our distress. And it's also fitting to do so in this special place, one set aside - one could say hallowed - for meditation on matters that go beyond the everyday. Churchill was Edu's College and this Chapel is barely 100 m from the IOA and his old office in the Observatory Building.

We all knew Edu in different ways. I was his PhD supervisor and long time collaborator and so had a rather different relationship with him from most of those gathered here. There are whole areas of his life that I know very little about. And yet I feel I knew him well. Perhaps this is not surprising - the daily contacts of the PhD supervisor, the requirements of facing problems together in a robust and realistic spirit - these actually tell you pretty well what a person is really like, taking you well beyond what can be concealed by social graces. What strikes me, on reading the testimonies of his many friends, so movingly collected on his blogspace, is that the Eduardo I knew in the academic context was so recognisably the person whom his friends described with so much admiration, respect and affection.

If I dwell on his personal qualities here, this is not meant to suggest that he was anything other than an excellent student and scientist. He rapidly developed into a first rate numericist and his work on multiple star formation is still state of the art. (Moreover he had a command of written English, an eloquence of expression in his scientific writing that would shame his British contemporaries - a comment, perhaps, on the education system in his native Spain, or perhaps a comment on Eduardo).

Though Eduardo probably gained more scientific citations during his PhD work than any student I have supervised, one doesn't measure a life's worth in citations and so I return to what one could discern of Eduardo the person in one's scientific interactions with him. Despite his abilities, he was very modest, with an unfeigned humility and readiness to listen. He was always gentle and courteous, able to reflect on advice and to articulate his own opinions. There was a sort of personal and intellectual integrity about him that just commanded respect. And although he treated his work with due seriousness, there was also a sort of twinkling humour not far below the surface, which one could readily evoke.

I think Eduardo had a wonderful time in Cambridge and evidently enjoyed a full and multi-national social life, in addition to his astronomical activities. He found Stockholm much tougher on all fronts (he described to me his experience of a gradient of personal warmth across Europe, from his native Tenerife, to Cambridge, to Sweden....). Although much more isolated, he accepted the new situation with stoicism and a determination to make the best of it.

As he neared the end of his time in Stockholm, Eduardo was in demand
for further postdoctoral appointments in Europe and North America. And then he surprised me by telling me that he had decided not to pursue these but to return, for personal reasons, to Tenerife. Perhaps, he said, he might obtain a postdoc at the IAC (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias). I assured him that this was a very risky strategy in astronomy - to fix one's location and try for a job locally. And I said the academic system was insanely intolerant of what could be perceived as eccentric career moves. I was impressed by Eduardo's reply. He realised all this, he said, but - in full acceptance of the risk - this is what he felt he needed to do. In that case, said I, I will certainly support you up to the hilt. I think in retrospect that this was quite a characteristic way for Eduardo to behave - he evaluated things carefully, made his decision and went for it. We all know that he was not a gratuitous risk taker - and that the awful conspiracy of factors that caused his death could never be ascribed to recklessness on his part - and yet, when required, he did have the necessary courage to take those risks that were important.

It wasn't that easy when he returned to Tenerife without a job, having to do his work by effectively camping in the IAC (and this was simply due to the stretch or resources at the IAC, so that it was hard to support the intensive computational requirements of Eduardo's work, while he still lacked a position). He accepted this with pragmatic good grace and did what he could (which was actually quite a lot: some very interesting hydrodynamical simulations of binary star formation were conducted by Edu during this period). And then - great joy - he obtained a postdoctoral position at the IAC. Not only was this the longed for return to a perch on the academic ladder but, more importantly, it was an excellent position, which combined the opportunity to branch into new projects with the freedom to pursue his own research.

It is a bittersweet thought that Eduardo's last months were probably among the happiest and most fulfilled of his life. He had everything he had dreamed of, back in Tenerife, close to his family, new opportunities to pursue astrophysics...Bitter because one can't avoid thinking `If only...' and sweet because I think if any of us were to suffer the awful random fate that befell Eduardo, we'd like to go out on a high, in a state of living life to the full. He leaves behind so much, far more than the legacy of science which his collaborators are bringing to completion and publishing in his name. On behalf of all of us here, I salute you Eduardo, scientist and human being. Eternal remembrance!

The link to the astroph article on

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