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Patrick L. Nolan (1952–2011)

Published onDec 01, 2011
Patrick L. Nolan (1952–2011)

Patrick Lee Nolan died at his home in Palo Alto, California, on November 6, 2011, from complications related to a brain tumor, glioblastoma multiforme, which had been diagnosed less than five months earlier. He was born in Colusa, California, on November 18, 1952. Pat was the only child of John Henry Nolan and Carol Lee Harris Nolan. For most of his childhood they lived in Grass Valley, California, where his father was a butcher and his mother was a surgical nurse. Pat graduated from the California Institute of Technology in 1974 with a B.S. in Physics and completed a Ph.D. at the University of California at San Diego in 1982. His graduate and professional career was devoted to high-energy astronomy. His loss is being keenly felt by his friends and colleagues around the world, including the members of the Chancel Choir of the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, of which he was a member for 25 years.

At U. C. San Diego, Pat worked on construction of the Hard X-ray and Low Energy Gamma Ray Experiment for the first High Energy Astronomy Observatory mission, which was launched in 1977. His Ph.D. thesis, supervised by Prof. Laurence E. Peterson, was based on data from this instrument and addressed variability of the high-energy emission from Cygnus X-1 and other black hole binary systems in the Milky Way.

After he completed his Ph.D., Pat took a National Research Council postdoctoral research position at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. He worked there from 1982-1984 developing spectral analysis software and studying gamma-ray bursts using the gamma-ray spectrometer on the Solar Maximum Mission satellite. A paper in Nature setting constraining limits on positron-electron annihilation radiation in the spectra of bursts marked the culmination of his efforts.

Pat was hired by Prof. Robert Hofstadter at Stanford University in 1984 to work on the Energetic Gamma-Ray Experiment Telescope (EGRET). As a co-investigator for EGRET, Pat worked on its calorimeter subsystem, including calibration at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), as well as on data analysis software and methods. EGRET was carried into space by the Shuttle Atlantis in 1991 as part of the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. He led analyses of gamma-ray pulsars and other astrophysical sources, including a major study of EGRET source variability, and he was a valued resource to the many EGRET graduate students at Stanford. Members of the EGRET team regularly turned to Pat for advice on statistical analysis issues.

After the launch of the Compton Observatory, Pat became a member of a small group at Stanford University and SLAC that developed and promoted a new design for a next-generation gamma-ray telescope, based on modern solid-state detectors for particle physics detectors. The concept became the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope mission, which was launched by NASA in 2008 and renamed the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. The scientific collaboration for the Large Area Telescope on Fermi has grown to about 400 members from a number of countries. Pat was a recognized expert in statistics and data analysis within the collaboration and as a member of the Publication Board developed the Web and database systems for internal review of scientific publications.

Pat was unassuming, widely read, and knowledgeable in many fields. These qualities together with his quiet joy in science made him a valued friend and colleague to many. At the time of his death, Pat was a Senior Research Physicist in the Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory at Stanford University.

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