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Timothy J. Lee (1959-2022)

Lee developed highly accurate molecular line lists for stellar and exoplanetary atmosphere modeling, and both identified and quantified chemical reaction routes relevant to astrophysics.

Published onFeb 13, 2023
Timothy J. Lee (1959-2022)
Figure 1

Photo credit: Marcus Lee

Timothy J. Lee, passed away in the company of his family on Thursday, November 3, 2022. He was 62.

Born to Catherine A. Caskins and David T. Lee in Denver, Colorado on December 14, 1959, Tim was their second child alongside brothers Dave and Mike. With his brothers, he fostered a lifelong enthusiasm for sports that he would later pass on to his own three sons through coaching them in baseball and soccer.

Tim began his studies at the Colorado School of Mines where he developed his passion for chemistry. While continuing his education through graduate studies at the University of California Berkeley, he met his future wife, Julia Rice, who was a visiting Ph.D. student from Cambridge. Julia and Tim were married on June 18, 1988, at Clare College, Cambridge. Together they raised three boys in Sunnyvale, California.

Tim had a prolific 33-year career at NASA Ames Research Center, serving over 10 years as the Division Chief of the Space Science and Astrobiology Division and receiving the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal in 1998 and 2011. He was respected and admired by his colleagues worldwide for his research, expertise, and dedication to theoretical chemistry and has been recognized many times for his scientific achievements. In 1988 he received the first Dirac Medal from the World Association of Theoretical and Computational Chemists for being an “outstanding computational chemist in the world under the age of 40.” He was an elected Fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was also a member of the AAS Laboratory Astrophysics Division and served on the Election Nominating Committee in 2021.

Tim lead the field in the computation of anharmonic spectra of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, established highly accurate molecular line lists for stellar and exoplanetary atmosphere modeling, and both identified and quantified chemical reaction routes relevant to astrophysics. His work was substantiated and enhanced by laboratory astrophysics and continues to increase the scientific return of astrophysics and planetary science research.

Tim was not only an outstanding mentor, but also a supportive colleague and friend to many. Above all, he was a pillar of strength and support for his family. He was an endlessly caring father and devoted husband who loved to gather his family around the table each Saturday evening to eat together, share stories, and discuss current events. He supported his family through thick and thin with extraordinary attentiveness and care and was always involved in their passions, challenges, and achievements.

Tim will be gravely missed by those of us who have had the privilege of his presence and care. We will carry his memory with us for the rest of our lives.

At his passing, Tim was in the company of his wife, Julia, their three sons Sebastian, Marcus, and Trevor, and his niece Brittany.

Adapted and reproduced from the original obituary with permission from Marcus Lee.

*Additional material provided by Stefanie Milam, AAS Laboratory Astrophysics Division.

Lee’s AstroGen entry

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