Matthias Dietrich (1962–2018)

Matthias Dietrich

Matthias Dietrich died on Thursday the 19th of July, 2018.

Matthias Dietrich passed away at the age of 56 after a long battle with cancer. He was born on 19 May 1962 and was raised in Eschwege, Germany. He obtained his Ph.D. at the Universität Göttingen in 1991 under Prof. K. J. Fricke with his dissertation “Zeitlich und spektral hochaufgelöste Variabilitätsanalyse von NGC 5548” (a temporally and spatially resolved variability analysis of NGC 5548), one of the first dissertations to make use of reverberation mapping. Matthias Dietrich held post-doctoral research positions at the Landessternwarte in Heidelberg, University of Florida, Georgia State University, and The Ohio State University.  He had teaching positions at Ohio State and Ohio University. In 2014, he became an assistant professor at Worcester State University in Massachusetts. Matthias was a spectroscopist who studied quasars in the optical, ultraviolet, and near infrared. In addition to reverberation mapping, Matthias worked on AGN outflows, elemental abundances in quasars, and quasar black hole demographics. His work was of uniformly high quality and characterized by the great care with which he took and analyzed data.  Anyone who worked with Matthias would acknowledge not only that he was an extremely skilled observer, in particular with vast experience on a variety of large facilities such as the LBT, but a very committed and enthusiastic scientist in general. Thus, reaching out to the public was second nature to him, and indeed teaching came easily to him – he was known for setting up his telescope in a public park and hosting spontaneous star parties. Amateur astronomers worldwide took delight in Matthias being present at many events providing expert help in observing and understanding celestial phenomena, with one highlight being the successful 2012 campaign to view the rare event of a transit of Venus. Countless students and colleagues in Columbus (OSU), Athens (Ohio University), and finally Massachusetts (Worcester State University) will remember him as extremely helpful, engaged, and friendly professor.

A lifelong fan of German powerhouse FC Bayern München, Matthias also actively frustrated opponents on the soccer pitch in his favorite role as goalkeeper. His greatest achievement in sports, however, came very shortly after his first chemotherapy, when he successfully finished the Columbus Marathon. Enjoying nature and specifically living in harmony with the animal world (not only in the form of taking care of numerous pets, among them many faithful dogs, but extending definitely to the wilder fauna) were important focal points for Matthias. He actively engaged in many conservation projects, and his greatest joy came in realizing that the African orphan cow elephant he had adopted via a World Wildlife Fund project became (and still is) the respected matriarch of a large herd in the Serengeti.

Matthias’ quiet optimism, his joyful nature, his friendliness, and above all his helpfulness will always be remembered. His fine sense of humor allowed him to master many a dire situation with irony rather than sarcasm or cynicism. It was this combination of characteristics that made Matthias a wonderful family man. He is survived by his wife Jennifer and beloved young daughter Katie.

Photo: Rob Hardin (Ohio University)

Obituary Written By: Stephan Frank (The Ohio State University) and Bradley M. Peterson (The Ohio State University and Space Telescope Science Institute)