David and I have been talking for several years about hiking Virginia’s highpoint (Mt. Rogers) in the Winter. Until the 3rd weekend in February, our schedules hadn’t lined up to make it happen. I must admit this is due in large part to my penchant for fleeing to the frozen north to spend my winter weekends ice climbing.
We sketched out a plan: drive to the trailhead, camp out, hike Mt. Rogers, go see a show at the Carter Family Fold, then visit my grandparents in Tennessee for the evening. Well, we did hike Mt. Rogers and we did visit my grandparents, but on Friday. So much for the camping and the music! Here’s how it unfolded…
Almost a year ago, I posted a “bouldering” video which showed essentially no bouldering. The idea was borrowed from a friend’s photo essay assignment as an undergrad, where she had to document an activity without showing people actually engaging in that activity.
In the middle of a 100 hour (!) long observing block on the Arizona Radio Observatory‘s 12m telescope on Kitt Peak, I remembered this idea and thought it might be fun to do the same thing for a (remote) observing run.
This past Thursday evening I received the sad news that Prof. David Axon had died suddenly that morning. He was a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Sussex. I had a lot of interaction with him over much of the past decade, particularly during my 5 years at RIT.
Despite being busy with his duties as department head of Physics at RIT, Dave liked to take on transfer students for academic advising. As I switched to physics from electrical engineering, he was assigned as my academic advisor. In this role, he was not only important in my success in the physics program, but he was also instrumental in my astronomy career. RIT has a well developed co-op program and though it usually is not taken advantage of by physics students, I decided to take two 6-month co-ops to figure out what I wanted to do after I graduated. The first would be a pure research project, and the second would be working in industry. Dave set me up with another RIT physics professor, Chris O’Dea to work on a project using data from the Hubble Space Telescope. I had such a great time with the project that I decided to forgo the industry co-op and apply to grad school. I credit Dave with starting me along that path.
I also appreciated and greatly benefited from his mentorship over the years. For some time I had trouble getting advising appointments with him (the former department secretary didn’t think undergraduates were worthy!). When I mentioned this to him, he told me to just come knock on the side door to his office whenever I wanted to chat. It was very characteristic of him — no matter how busy he was with running the department, he was always happy to meet with students and give them a few minutes of his time.
After I left RIT for UVa, Dave continued to be an active collaborator in my research. We had a couple ongoing projects and I’m happy to say that one month ago, a project we worked on together was published in the Astrophysical Journal.
He was a great mentor, collaborator, and friend.
Farewell Dave, you will be greatly missed.
Yesterday while leaving work I saw this picturesque scene: two vultures sitting on a dead tree, surveying their domain…
I know I haven’t posted much lately… things have been pretty busy, but there will be some posts coming soon!