I met Andrei in 1991 and immediately realized he was a treasure. He had the mathematical and computational skills that perfectly complemented our highly experimental group. We made great progress in elasticity imaging in the early 1990s and rapidly became the premier group in this important area. There is no way we could have achieved this without Andrei’s intellect, drive, and insight. I am extremely grateful that Andrei joined our group every summer for over a decade.
I have many good memories of my collaboration with Andrei. My most vivid ones are simple and deep. Since 1991, I’ve always anticipated Andrei’s arrival for his summer visit to Michigan. I knew that I could talk with him for just a day or two and he would launch into processing data we had acquired over the last year. Almost every time he would find some patterned noise that helped us debug our experimental system. Computational scientists aren’t supposed to help experimentalists in this way, but it was typical of Andrei’s style – he always cared about getting to the core of a problem. I always knew that the summer had officially started when Andrei found our first problem.
My family also anticipated Andrei’s arrival every summer. Cathy and I would always have long conversations with Andrei at one of our summer parties. They ranged from politics to literature to religion to science and back again to politics, and were eye-opening conversations for Cathy and me since we knew little about life in the Soviet Union. Andrei was always charming but straight to the point. I also remember that he was a killer croquet player – he played New York rules even though he was from. My two sons, Brendan and Sean, always liked talking with Andrei as well. It was one of the high points of their summer to talk with Andrei at one of our parties.
My most vivid memory of Andrei, though, was the “smoke break.” Michigan has a long standing law that you cannot smoke in public buildings. Since all university buildings are considered public, this meant that Andrei couldn’t smoke in his office. Andrei usually smoked several cigarettes during the day, which meant he had to leave the building periodically. Many times over a summer I would want to talk to Andrei about some technical point but find his office empty. I would then check outside the building to see if he was on a smoke break. More often then not, he would be outside smoking and thinking. We would immediately start to talk about the technical point and argue it well beyond the length of one cigarette. I was not a great fan of the smoking, but the smoke break got us both out of the lab and always made a relaxed atmosphere for good conversations. Many of them started with a technical point but finished anywhere from politics to history to life. I always looked forward to these impromptu conversations as a special part of Andrei’s visit every summer.
Andrei is very much missed in Ann Arbor. It’s hard to fully accept that he is gone – it feels like he’s just back in Russia till next summer. He was an important part of our lives and a very dear friend.
December 27, 2003
Matthew O'Donnell, Ph.D.,