Archive for Leonid Grishchuk

R.I.P. Leonid Grishchuk

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on September 14, 2012 by telescoper

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.

lpg008_test

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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Auditorium A

Posted in Biographical, Books, Talks and Reviews with tags , , , , , on June 8, 2011 by telescoper

Just back from a splendidly wine-laden workshop dinner, I thought I’d do a quick post. My talk was moved to this morning, instead of the scheduled slot in the afternoon I think it went OK considering that, in the spirit of a small informal workshop, I talked mainly about work in progess…

That’s the whiteboard in my office in Cardiff, by the way, not my talk this morning. Auditorium A has good old-fashioned blackboards.

An advantage of speaking in the morning was that after it was over I was able to relax with a beer at lunchtime, but in the warm weather that made it rather difficult to stay on the ball afterwards. I’ve lost track of the amount of time I’ve spent sitting (or even speaking) in the famous Auditorium A of the Niels Bohr Institute over the years, actually, but I don’t think I’ve ever taken a picture there, so here’s one.

On the extreme left you can see our genial host Pavel Naselsky; in the centre left with blue shirt and grey hair, pretending not to be asleep, is Leonid Grishchuk; beside him to the right is Subir Sarkar and next to him,  more-or-less hidden from view, is Holger Bech Nielsen who travelled backwards in time especially to attend the workshop. The knee in the foreground remains unattributed.

Here is an “official” workshop photograph, taken while the participants were looking a bit more awake, but before quite a few had made it back from lunch..

Leonid’s Shower

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on April 18, 2009 by telescoper

Yesterday (17th April) was the last day of our Easter vacation – back to the grind on Monday – and it was also the occasion of a special meeting to mark the retirement of Professor Leonid Petrovich Grishchuk.

Leonid has been a Distinguished Research Professor here in Cardiff since 1995. You can read more of his scientific biography and wider achievements here, but it should suffice to say that he is a pioneer of many aspects of relativistic cosmology and particularly primordial gravitational waves. He’s also a larger-than-life character who is known with great affection around the world.

Among other things, he’s a big fan of football. He still plays, as a matter of fact, although he generally spends more time ordering his team-mates about than actually running around himself. One of his retirement presents was a Cardiff City football shirt with his name on the back.

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 have been 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 does with Leonid.

I also remember a spell in the States as a visitor during which I heard two Russian cosmologists screaming at each other in the room next door. I really thought they were about to have a fist fight. A few minutes later, though, they both emerged, smiling as if nothing had happened…

Appropriately enough Leonid’s bash was held immediately after BritGrav 9, a meeting dedicated to bringing together the gravitational research community of the UK and beyond, and to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas. It aimed to cover all aspects of gravitational physics, both theoretical and experimental, including cosmology, mathematical general relativity, quantum gravity, gravitational astrophysics, gravitational wave data analysis, and instrumentation. I chaired a session during the meeting and found Leonid in characteristic form as a member of the audience, never shy with questions or comments, and quite difficult to keep under control.

I enjoyed the meeting because priority was given to students when allocating speaking slots. I think too many conferences have the same senior scientists giving  the same talk over and over again. Relativists are also quite different to cosmologists in the level of mathematical rigour to which they aspire.  You can bullshit at a cosmology conference, but wouldn’t get away with it in front of a GR audience.

On the evening of 16th April we had a public lecture in Cardiff by Kip Thorne on The Warped Side of the Universe: from the Big Bang to Black Holes and Gravitational Waves and Kip also gave a talk as part of the subsequent meeting on Friday in Leonid’s honour.

lpg008_test

Kip and Leonid are shown together a few years ago in the photograph to the left here. The rest of the LPGFest meeting was interesting and eclectic, with talks from mathematical relativists as well as scientists in diverse fields who had come over from Russia specially to honour Leonid. We later adjourned to a “Welsh Banquet” at the 15th Century Undercroft of Cardiff Castle for dinner accompanied by something described as “entertainment” laid on by the hosts. That part was quite excruciating: like Butlins only not as classy. Heaven knows what our distinguished foreign visitors made of it, although Leonid seemed to think it was great fun, and that’s what matters.

Once the dinner was over it was time for Leonid to be showered with gifts from around the world and, by way of a finale, he was serenaded with a version of From Russian With Love, by Bernie and the Gravitones. Now at last I understand what the phrase “extraordinary rendition” means.