In Memory of Andrew Chamblin

By cjohnson | April 17, 2006 11:50 pm

You will recall that last month I went to a memorial service and all-day symposium for Andrew Chamblin, who passed away in February. (You can read much more in this link, particularly in the comment thread.) The memorial was in Louisville, Kentucky, where Andrew was on the Physics Faculty. Several of Andrew’s friends, colleagues and collaborators came to the event. The dominant component of the attendance was from people who were in either of the physics departments at Louisville, Lexington and Cincinatti, the three closest cities, which have physics links with each other (some of those links involved collaborations with Andrew). Andrew’s family and several close friends were there, and some physicists from further away, such as myself. There were also readings of the numerous letters and tributes that were sent and from other communications (e.g. from the thread of the post I did on this blog). These were from friends and colleagues from much further afield who were unable to make it to the Louisville memorial symposium and service.

andrew chamblin memorial

Before I say a bit more about the events of the day, I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that there will be two more memorial services for Andrew, one at Oxford and the other at Cambridge. This will give many more of Andrew’s friends and colleagues the chance to gather in his memory, and to pay tribute to him. Please tell as many people as possible about these events in case they wish to attend and/or participate. Furthermore, a Memorial Lecture Fund has been set up, to which everyone is invited to contribute. There will be an Andrew Chamblin Memorial Lecture every year, funded by the contributions to this. (Every little bit helps, so don’t be shy.)

Jo Ashbourn, who has been working very hard on several aspects of the memorials and the fund, writes about the memorial services:

“There will be a memorial service for Andrew in Oxford on Friday 9th June at 2:00pm in Christ Church Cathedral with tea in Christ Church Dining Hall after the service.

The following day in Cambridge on Saturday 10th June there will be another memorial service for Andrew at 2:30pm in Pembroke College Chapel with tea afterwards in the Old Library.

The two services are designed to be different for two phases of Andrew’s life, but everyone is welcome to either or both. If you would like to come, please email hacmemorial (at) so we can keep track of the numbers attending.”

…and about the memorial fund she writes:

The Andrew Chamblin Memorial Lecture Fund has just been set up in order to endow a lecture in Andrew’s name at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge. The plan is to have an annual lecture on topics which were of particular interest to Andrew and we hope to have enough donations in order to have the first lecture later this year or early next year if possible.

Donations can be made as follows with completion of the forms below (see links):

USA donations

For US donors, tax-deductible contributions can be made to:

Cambridge in America
PO Box 271
New York, NY 10013,

with indication of the donor’s request that the gift be granted to the Andrew Chamblin Memorial Lecture Fund at DAMTP, University of Cambridge. [Links to form: doc , pdf]

UK / ROW donations

These donations should be made to:

The Cambridge Foundation
1 Quayside
Bridge Street
Cambridge, CB5 8AB,

with indication of the donor’s request that the gift be allocated to the Andrew Chamblin Memorial Lecture Fund at DAMTP, University of Cambridge. [Links to form: doc , pdf]

All donations will be gratefully acknowledged. If anyone has any questions, please email hacmemorial (at) for more information.

The Louisville day of events was very special. First, there was a series of really excellent physics talks (plus mine) on physics that either Andrew was involved in, or that work of his helped lead to, given by a number of friends and collaborators of his. Here is the program of speakers and talks for that symposium (very well organized by Al Shapere):

  • Opening remarks
  • Matthew Lippert (Louisville) “Decay of Nearly Flat Space”
  • Josh Erlich (William and Mary) “Gravitational Entropy from Gravitational Shear”
  • Jeremy Michelson (Kentucky) “Black Hole Vacua”
  • Rob Myers (Perimeter) “Inflation in AdS/CFT”
  • Clifford Johnson (USC) “A is for Action. A is for Andrew.”
  • Retrospective: Andrew’s Legacy

Annoyingly, I missed all the individual talks (except mine) because of the bizarre scheduling screwup at Chicago airport I already told you about, but I think that everything was preserved on video and I hope that there’ll be material made available to be seen by all soon.

The final event of the symposium was the Retrospective, as you can see from the list. This was rather different in character in that it was meant to give everyone (whether researcher in the field or not) an idea of the impact of Andrew’s work and life in the field. This worked really well indeed. Several of the people present stood up and spoke off the cuff about what it was like working with Andrew, what the importance of the work was, what sort of things it led to and could lead to in the future, and how much Andrew will be missed, often speaking directly to members of Andrew’s family sitting in the audience. In the two pictures I’ve included you can see Rob Myers…..

andrew chamblin memorial
and Josh Erlich…..

andrew chamblin memorial

… the process of delivering their remarks, and you can see some of Andrew’s family near the front of the audience.

The tributes during this part of the proceedings, which were from some of the Symposium speakers, from others in the audience, and from letters from friends and colleagues (which were read aloud by some of us) gave several examples of his infectious enthusiam, his originality of good ideas in physics and mathematics, (especially his eye for slightly off-the-beaten-track ideas – several of which turned out to bear great fruit), his general love of life, and the enrichment he brought to the community, lighting up any event to which he went. See the earlier blog post and its comments from many in the community for examples.

The thing that especially struck me in this part of the proceedings (and I mentioned it and made it my focus in my remarks at the memorial service, later that day) was Andrew’s influence on so many people via his support of his younger colleagues. He really was great at working with students, giving them interesting problems, and letting them find their voices through such supportive collaborations. He was quite young himself, so that makes it even more remarkable. Several young excellent theorists were helped along their career path through working with that type of support from him (Harvey Reall wrote a very touching letter, mentioning himself as an example that I read out in the final Symposium session). That is a legacy of immeasurable value…. and makes the loss even harder to bear when you think how many more people he would have influenced and encouraged had he continued in this way throughout a long career.

After the Symposium, we had maybe half an hour of standing around sharing more stories of Andrew, and then we went to the next event, the memorial service itself (see the photo at the top of this post). This was in a different building (the Alumni University Club) and was organized by David Brown, the acting Chairman of the Physics Department at Louisville. Several of Andrew’s former colleagues spoke very touchingly about their memories of Andrew, including the faculty member who last saw him alive the evening he died. He spoke to us about that meeting and there were tears in several people’s eyes (including mine) at the end of the story.

In the reception that followed, I got a chance to talk to Andrew’s family, and recall our earlier meeting several years ago, which took place when I visited them in Amarillo on my way driving cross country from Lexington to Santa Barbara. We spoke of many things, and I also got to meet other people who were close to Andrew, and got to know better others that I’d met briefly in the past, such as Jo Ashbourn, who has been working on some of the memorial matters I mentioned above. It was particularly electrifying talking with Jonathan, Andrew’s brother, as I could hear in him some of Andrew’s voice and wonderful way of story-telling. This, which was unexpected, made me both happy and sad at the same time.

Another unexpected thing was Andrew’s family telling me how valuable the blog -yes, Cosmic Variance- was to them during the time immediately after Andrew’s death. The various tributes that were made on the post I did were of considerable comfort to them and they especially wanted to thank me for writing the post that got it going. I was very touched by this, but in turn want to point out that what really made the whole thing work so well was the fact that so many of you came onto the blog and left your remarks and reminiscences. They read all of them, and some were read at the funeral, and I read some more of them out loud at the memorial service. Thanks to all of you, since you brought out really the key aspect of the post, and what a blog can do – showing the community of friends that it brought together again electronically, in Andrew’s memory, allowing Andrew’s family to see how much he was loved. So thank you from me and especially from Andrew’s family.

I should mention that Andrew’s family are thinking of organising a trip in the early Summer to scatter the second half of Andrew’s ashes from the top of one of his favourite fourteeners in Colorado (the first half was scattered at a canyon he loved near Amarillo). This event might well coincide with one or other of the Aspen workshops, and so perhaps some physicists who knew Andrew might want to come along if you are already in the area for a workshop (or even if you want to come out especially). I think it could be a fantastic trip; a celebration of Andrew by doing together something he really loved…. and he so enjoyed showing people new trails and mountains. Let me know if you’re interested and I can try and help coordinate it with the family.

Well, I think I’ve said enough now. Do try to come to the memorial events in England, especially if you are already based there or visting there. It is not really very far to travel to them from anywhere in the UK, and we do all owe Andrew a lot for leaving his mark on the field in so many ways. Also please consider contributing to the Memorial Lecture Fund. I gave the details above. [Update: Reference to Louisville website was out of date, and it has been removed.]

Once again, thanks to all who contributed.


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Academia, Personal, Science

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