John Wang, Assistant Professor of Astronomy at the University of Maryland, died in August 1998 in a hiking accident in Colorado. He was 38 years old.
John was born in Taipei, Taiwan on October 1, 1959, and spent his early years in Greece, Taiwan, and the United States. He received a BS, magna cum laude, in physics from the University of Maryland and a PhD in physics from Cornell University. His PhD thesis, completed under the supervision of Ed Salpeter and Ira Wasserman, dealt with the formation of cyclotron line features in the spectra of accreting neutron stars. While at Cornell, he also completed a "sous-thesis" on electromagnetic jets from magnetized accretions flows, in collaboration with Richard Lovelace and his students.
After receiving his PhD, John moved to the University of Chicago as a Robert McCormick Fellow, under the supervision of Don Lamb. While there, he applied his expertise to modelling the formation of the cyclotron lines observed by the Ginga satellite in the spectra of some gamma ray bursts. John's work in this area ranged from applying physical models for line formation directly to the data (in collaboration with Lamb, Tom Loredo, Wasserman, Ed Fenimore, and other Ginga observers) to producing a detailed theory of the heating and cooling of the line formation region (also with Lamb and Wasserman). His interest in this area continued long after his stint in Chicago; one of his most recent papers, written with Isenberg and Lamb, was on formation of cyclotron lines in radiation-driven winds.
Upon leaving Chicago, John became a postdoctoral fellow at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA). There, from 1990 to 1993, he was a central part of an extremely lively group of young theorists, interested in high energy astrophysics. During this phase in his career, John also broadened his range to encompass, for example, Lyman alpha emission from massive clouds at high redshift and from Seyfert galaxies, collaborating with Luc Binette, Peter Martin, and others. The most recent output from this effort was a paper on evidence for Fermi acceleration of Lyman alpha in the radio galaxy 1243+036 by Binette, Joguet, and Wang.
From CITA, John moved to the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics at the University of Colorado to work with Mitch Begelman. There, among other topics, he studied the prospects for detecting neutron stars through the soft X-ray radiation they emit as they accrete interstellar material.
Wang accepted an assistant professorship at his alma mater, the University of Maryland, in 1994. He reached the top of his form at Maryland, successfully juggling teaching, grants, graduate students, timely paper production, and new project initiation&mdash'all the things a first class assistant professor must do in the march toward tenure. His primary research thrust continued to be high energy astrophysics, but he also continued broadening his array of interests, e.g. into solar system astronomy, collaborating with A.W. Grossman to analyze microwave interferometer observations of Jupiter during the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts. Recently, observations began to bear out the predictions of John's work on isolated accreting neutron stars. John became interested in the cooling of the soft X-ray source RX J0720.4-3125, and its implications for the nature of nuclear matter, completing an important paper on this intriguing object, in collaboration with B. Link, K. van Riper, K. Arnaud, and J. Mirales just weeks before his untimely death. Just prior to the tragic accident, John was in Colorado to work with Ralph Sutherland on the dynamical and spectral signatures of the neutron star accretion process.
John was an ebulient, irrepressibly optimistic person, who energized his friends and collaborators. We shall all miss his intelligence, his kindness, and his human spirit. He is survived by his parents and sister, resident in Canada, and by a brother in the United States.
Photo (available in PDF version) courtesy of the Wang family.