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.

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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.

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5 Responses to “R.I.P. Leonid Grishchuk”

  1. Leonid was my PhD supervisor for 1 year. He nearly made me quit astronomy totally because of his head-strong approach. However, it eventually made me really appreciate that I should question every aspect of my research. Although we parted company, he was always very friendly and we even enjoyed some conversations about the research I had been doing with him at many points afterwards.

    Once he claimed that curved space-time was ‘capitalist bullshit’ in a seminar, with that same twinkle in his eye. He will be sorely missed.

  2. This is sad news.

    I worked as a postdoc in the University of Wales College of Cardiff at the time Leonid Grischuk first arrived in Cardiff and overlapped with his first year or two there.

    Before he arrived, I asked some members of the relativity group what Leonid Grischuk was like. I was told, “Like Mike Disney, but without the humour.”

    I think they had missed some of his lighter side.

    • It is not true. In fact, he had a very specific russian-like humour. Mike Disney was a very dear friend of Leonya and helped a lot when our daughter Olga went to Cardiff to meet him at the Hospital. I am grateful to Mike and Nino Disney for receiving my daughter Olga Grishchuk while her father was at the hospital.

      All the best,

      Maria Emília Guimnarães

  3. Adrian Burd Says:

    That’s very sad news. I knew Leonid from Queen Mary and later at Washington University where we often had lunch together. I have a great photo of him, myself and a few others throwing Clifford Will into a swimming pool! He will be sadly missed for his science, friendship and humor.

  4. It is very sad. Leonid was playing football just a few months back, far outlasting many of us who’ve played with him over the years.
    Just to add to the anekdots above: while writting a paper with Leonid, I complained to one of our colleagues (also a former student of Leonid) that Leonid had just crisscrossed the tenth draft of our paper. All I got in return was a condescending grin. It took 43 drafts to finally submit the paper. That said, we did stabilize towards 10-15 rounds on our later papers.
    With time, I have really started appreciating Leonid’s passion to science and his no-bull approach. I have learned a great deal from Leonid, both on and off the pitch. Lyonya Petrovich will be fondly remembered as a teacher, colleague and a friend!

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