R.I.P. Leonid Grishchuk
As I was travelling to Heathrow airport in order to fly to the USA (from where I am posting this message), I heard the sad news of the death of a dear and respected colleague, Professor Leonid Petrovich Grishchuk.
Leonid was a Distinguished Research Professor here in Cardiff from 1995 until his retirement in 2009 and was frequently to be found in the department after that. You can read more of his scientific biography and wider achievements here, but it should suffice to say that he was a pioneer of many aspects of relativistic cosmology and particularly primordial gravitational waves. He was also a larger-than-life character, held in great affection by many scientists and friends around the world.
My first experience of Leonid was many years ago at a scientific meeting at which I attempted to give a talk. Leonid was in the audience and he interrupted me, rather aggressively. I didn’t really understand his question so he had another go at me in the questions afterwards. I don’t mind admitting that I was quite upset with his behaviour. I think a large fraction of working cosmologists have probably been “Grischchucked” at one time or another. Later on, though, people from the meeting were congregating at a bar when he arrived and headed for me. I didn’t really want to talk to him as I felt he had been quite rude. However, there wasn’t really any way of escaping so I ended up talking to him over a beer. We finally resolved the question he had been trying to ask me and his demeanour changed completely. We spent the rest of the evening having dinner and talking about all sorts of things and were good friends ever since. Over the years I’ve learned that this is very much a tradition amongst Russian scientists of the older school. They can seem very hostile – even brutal – when discussing science, but that was the way things were done in the environment where they learned their trade. In many cases the rather severe exterior masks a kindly and generous nature, as it certainly did with Leonid. Leonid’s confrontational behaviour was partly sport – once you got used to that twinkle in his eye it was impossible to take offence – but partly a genuine desire to cut away the flannel and get to the heart of things. He detested bullshit and had no time for people who traded in it.
Here’s a picture of Leonid taken a few years ago with his longstanding friend Professor Kip Thorne.
Some months ago Leonid was struck down by a brain tumour, against which he struggled bravely. On Monday this week, however, the doctors were forced to admit that the treatment had failed and Leonid could not live much longer. Fortunately his death, when it came, was peaceful. He passed away in his sleep on Wednesday night.
Farewell, Leonid. We’ll all miss you.Follow @telescoper