Andrew Lange

By Sean Carroll | January 23, 2010 8:43 am

lange_-_size All of Caltech, and the cosmology community worldwide, is mourning the death of Andrew Lange. He was one of the world’s leading scientists, co-leader of the Boomerang experiment that provided the first precise measurement of the first acoustic peak in the cosmic microwave background. He took his own life Thursday night.

It’s hard to convey how unexpected and tragic this news is. Very few people combined Andrew’s brilliance as a scientist with his warmth as a person. He always had a sparkle in his eye, was enthusiastically in love with science and ideas, and was constantly doing his best to make Caltech the best possible place, not just for himself but for everyone else around him. He was one of the good guys. The last I spoke with him, Andrew was energetically raising funds for a new submillimeter telescope, organizing conferences, and helping plan for a new theoretical physics center. We are all walking around in shock, wondering how this could happen and whether we could have done anything to prevent it. Caltech has had several suicides this year — hard to make sense of any of them.

The message from Caltech President Jean-Lou Chameau is below the fold. For any local readers, there’s contact info if you would like to talk to counselors for any reason.


January 22, 2010

TO: The Caltech Community

FROM: Jean-Lou Chameau

It is with great sadness and regret that I must report to you the death of Professor Andrew Lange, a valued member of the Caltech faculty. Andrew was found this morning off campus, and it appears that he took his own life. Among the most difficult things that people have to deal with in life are tragedies of this sort, especially when they affect people that we know and care for; and Andrew was such a well-known, well-respected, and well-liked member of our community that many of us will be deeply affected.

Andrew came to Caltech in 1993 and was most recently the chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy. He was a truly great physicist and astronomer who had made seminal discoveries in observational cosmology.

Andrew was a valued colleague and a close friend to many of us. His death is a source of great sadness to us all and our deepest sympathy goes out to his family, friends, and colleagues, all of whom mourn his loss.

We know this tragic news will come as a shock to everyone — faculty, staff, and students alike, even those of you who knew that Andrew had been struggling with personal issues. Many of us feel the need in times like these to reach out and seek help in dealing with the shock, and I urge anyone who wants help to seek it from family members, friends, faculty, and/or professional counselors. This is not only a reasonable thing to do, it is an important thing to do. I want to emphasize in particular that counselors are always available, 24-hours a day. Students should call the Counseling Center at 626-395-8331, while faculty, staff, and postdocs, should call the Staff and Faculty Consultation Center at 626-395-8360. In addition, the Counseling Center will be open on Saturday and Sunday from 10-3pm.

  • Abel Pharmboy

    Heartbreaking, Sean. My condolences to you, Andrew’s family, and the Caltech community.

  • JoAnne

    Wow. This is a shock. May he rest in peace.

  • Daniel Lewis

    I’m beyond horrified, shocked and saddened by this news. He was a terrific guy. I had lunch with Andrew at the Huntington Library in mid-October, at a small luncheon we put on for some CalTech scientists, and found him incredibly personable, warm, and higly capable of demystifying science for humanists. We agreed he’d visit soon for a tour of the history of astronomy collections here. The world has lost a bright light indeed. -Daniel Lewis, Ph.D. / Dibner Senior Curator for the History of Science & Technology / The Huntington

  • CHB

    Stunned and saddened. Andrew stood up for me when I was his grad student; when I needed a champion he was there. Whenever any of us were having tough times, he always convinced us to take time to ourselves. This is such a great loss.

  • Counterfly

    WTF. This is so senseless. Stunning. He was amazing, and seemed to have it all together. And his family, my God. Feel so bad for them. What a loss for them, the Caltech community, and hell, for science in general.

  • Samuel A. (Sam) Cox

    Just terrible.

    I noted Sean’s previous comments on suicide and have worked myself on community suicide prevention programs in the Pacific islands, which have one of the highest suicide rates (of young men) in the world.

    Although suicide there seemed to occur because of some “incident”, most of the guys who had a predisposition to this kind of behavior felt rejected by, if not their society, some person who meant a great deal to them. Very early in life, starting at the breast- and continuously thereafter- every child needs to feel important and accepted.

    In Micronesia, the fellows liked to lean on the rope, or would use the family 22 rifle. Our programs were community based and very activist. We organized the young people into groups with mutual interests and needs. When somebody ran off into the woods with a rope, they were chased and prevented by being reassured they were important and would be terribly missed.

    Any incident would be reported to a caring adult. First we would take action and send the young person to visit friends and/ or relatives say in Guam or Hawaii…make them feel important by investing in them.

    When they returned they would be followed closely by companions and given counseling. I worked with local guys on the procedures and after I went my way, they continued the program. I was told later that suicide on that island stopped abruptly for more than 20 years…in spite of the poverty, lack of education and family stresses in the island environment.

    The note sent to your faculty and students noted that Andrew had been struggling with personal issues. Suicide is a personal matter…it has its roots deep in psyco-sexual dynamics. One young man on the island where I worked had a funny name: “Useless”. I asked his father why he named his youngster “Useless” and he told me he had 14 children already- and this one was useless. Today, Useless is an important leader, helping
    others on his island find the peace and security he knows.

    Suicide-prone people need to KNOW somebody cares- REALLY cares in a meaningful way. That means they need to experience- and be comfortable- in intimate relationships. It also means they need to learn that there are non-manipulative, caring people in the world!

    I asked one guy who had been “ditched” by his girl how many females there were in the world…and suggested that there was probably, among those 3 billion souls, one just for him, who would not heartlessly drop him. Girls need to have the same understanding. Problems with identity need to be dealt with with understanding and acceptance.

    Every kid thinks they are the first person on Earth to “grow up”. We all need to be reminded what happens to us…the feelings we experience, are common to everyone and that others (not necessarily everyone) cares, really cares.

    I remember once being approached by a young person. He suddenly blurted out that there was something “wrong” with him. I asked “what” and soon realized he was much more normal than he realized. I told him so. Just that much encouragment, given at a critical time of his life transformed him. Hw went on to have a large family and successful life.

    I believe we all, in this human family have a responsibility to care for each other, to support each other and to be ready to reach out as opportunities present themselves….

  • Sili

    So it goes.

    If this is due to the financial crisis, his blood is obviously on the administration’s hands. Presumably he was in good health? I’d kill myself if my mind was deteriorating, but I’d certainly try to make the most of the remaining time.

    Still a sad loss.

  • BJP

    I was a graduate student of Andrew’s from 1995 to 2002. He provided me with countless unbelievable opportunities. At several crucial times in my career, he came through with exceptional support, understanding, and kindness. I pass on so many lessons learned from him on a daily basis to my own students. Like so many of his colleagues, students, and friends, I owe him enormously, and am just shocked and deeply saddened by this. My love to all of you who are struggling with this loss, particularly those in his family.

  • Scott H.

    I once was Andrew’s TA for Physics 1, probably in ’96 or ’97. I’ll never forget the course evaluation that read “This class was awesome; whatever Professor Lange was smoking before lecture, I want some.”

    I’ve been in shock since I got the news. Best wishes to all my friends at Caltech, and to Andrew’s family.

  • Chanda

    This is such an extraordinary loss, especially for the people closest to Andrew, but also clearly for the rest of us too. I’ve been really moved by what his former students/TAs have posted here, so I want to thank them for sharing. Andrew obviously inspired the best kind of relationships in physics, and I hope that he will live on as he continues to inspire us all to remember to believe in each other and love what we are doing.

    I’ve lost friends to suicide, and there are really no words for the infinite sense of “why?” that stays forever. Whatever he was suffering must have been terrible, and I’m sorry that he couldn’t find another way out.

    This is particularly horrible as we consider that this is the second loss to the astronomy community in two weeks. Sam Roweis at NYU killed himself on January 13. I hope we will take from this the importance of letting each other know that it’s okay to not be okay, and it’s okay to ask for help. That depression and other mental challenges are human experiences. We as a community need to cultivate a caring environment so that when people are troubled, they can reach out. It sounds like Andrew tried to do that, so let’s follow his lead.

  • A. Friend

    I want to echo what has been said about Andrew being one of the good guys, his love of science, his warmth towards students as well as his own children, and his relentless efforts to make amazing things happen at Caltech. I don’t suspect Andrew was having financial problems. Tenured Caltech faculty are a pretty stable bunch in that sense. I also want to say that Andrew was an optimist, and maybe even a bit of a narcissist (in the way that so many promising academics are, and almost need to be in order to be competitive in their field). I don’t believe for one minute that he was suicidal in the sense that Sam Cox described above. Andrew recently resigned from being chair of the division, because he felt it was interfering with his family life… he was in the process of putting his personal life back together. People who sat across from him at meeting tables the day before his death saw someone who was exhausted and distressed, but not hopeless.

    Speaking as someone who has training in Psychology and has taken anti-depressants for many years, I believe that something beyond Andrew’s control – perhaps something chemical – must have washed over him. It wouldn’t be the first time that an antidepressant has caused sudden suicidal thoughts.

  • Former Student

    I had Professor Lange as a lecturer and section leader in Physics 2b a few years ago. He was academically inspired and inspiring; he cared about his students learning and understanding. We appreciated that and took him out to lunch at the end of the term. Caltech and the world has lost a wonderful person.

  • Ahmed

    Very sad.

    The main article on wikipedia today is also about a man who took his own life, though he was bipolar. I suspect the the faculty and students interacting with Prof Lange would have brought any strange behavior up with the administration.

    Is there any information about his recent behavior? Depression and suicide can be entirely irrational things, not related to understandable or reasonable difficulties.

  • A. Nother Friend

    Andrew was a stellar human being and a great scientist. He suffered for many years from depression. I think that he would’ve OK’d my saying this: if someone is talking about killing themselves, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY. Call 911. Get them into a hospital. Better to hospitalize someone who’s *not* really on the verge of doing it than to fail to hospitalize someone who *is*. Depression is a killer disease, just like cancer or pneumonia. Whether it’s you or someone else: get help.

  • A.Colleague

    Thank you for this, Sean. Andy was one of the most likable and admirable people I’ve ever known, at Caltech or anywhere. This is a miserable blow. My wife has been suffering from severe anxiety and depression for the last 12 months. It’s all brain chemistry gone awry. In a severe exacerbation, it’s easy to see how death would be preferable; at those times, I stay home with her. I’ve had to discuss this with Andy on several occasions, and I found him to be exceptionally sympathetic and supportive. At the time, I attributed it to his exceedingly good nature. Aieee…

  • DjB

    I’m shocked and saddened by such a tragic loss, to humanity and to science. I first worked with Andrew in 1989, and occasionally through his early Caltech years (as did BJP). I remember him asking to see some of my work when I was a grad student, telling others that I was a clever guy and that he’d be interested to see what I’d done. That moment has stayed with me ever since. Andrew was the clever one, and what I was doing was directly inspired by what he had done in his early career. What must surely have been a throwaway comment from him was an awesome event for me. My respect for him has remained undimmed for twenty years, and I shall miss him and his presence in the field.

  • JustME

    #15 I went through something similar a while back and slowly ended up periodically suicidal. After 18 months of systematically eliminating everything, it turned out to be some kind of freaky reaction to a generic medication I was switched to from a name brand. I hope you will consider the non-obvious if you’ve tried everything else, including diet, medication changes of any kind, and a full physical for undiagnosed illness. I found out the hard way that there are a range of technically non-mentally illness things that can end up with you dead.

  • Eamon

    That’s very sad news. May he rest in peace.

  • Mark

    I’ve been in shock all day since hearing this last night. It is tragic in every way. My condolences to everyone who knew Andrew.

  • LFF

    I just want to say reading this thread helps so much. I heard the news on travel and wasn’t around people who could share my shock and grief. As with many people who have posted, Andrew went far out of his way to show kindness, generosity and understanding during a recent very trying period
    for my family. I feel lucky that last week, I was able to share with him my appreciation for his support. I feel horrible that he was so good at helping others when we could have helped him more. Post #10
    says it right. Let’s honor Andrew by remembering to take care of each other.

  • Jonathan Vos Post

    I’m shocked, yet this communication begins the healing. I’ve had friends take their own lives, and we could all see it coming, as combination of depression and impulsiveness. But in other cases (I didn’t know Andrew Lange well enough, just a few conversations at Caltech) I never saw it coming. My sympathy and condolence to all who are hurt by this. Please do not torture yourself with feelings that you might have said or done something different, and prevented that. Such hypothetical events are not in the light cone.

  • Eunoia

    Just askin (from Germany) : is (attempted) suicide illegal in your country?

  • Alicia

    Andrew was one of the few scientists who really ‘got it;’ that science is about hard work, perseverence, and community rather than an IQ test or a pedigree. Andrew gave me a second chance at science, and on his team I felt as though I fit in and could thrive. That is a rare attribute among research teams, and that legacy lives on in his former students. Andrew’s passing is a terrible loss to the cosmology community, to the Caltech campus, and to the world in general. Please keep his family and research collaborators in your thoughts.

  • Pingback: University Diaries » “This is particularly horrible as we consider that this is the second loss to the astronomy community in two weeks. Sam Roweis at NYU killed himself on January 13.”()

  • Bill

    To Eunoia #22,

    Attempted suicide is illegal in most places in the US.

  • caltechgirl

    I was so shocked to read this. My memories of Andrew’a physics classes are among my best from Caltech. My deepest condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.

  • LHC

    I’m just a man with a van who is an amateur astronomer and who is also fascinated by cosmology. Just last week I was reading about Andrew Lange and the CMB long duration BOOMERANG balloon experiment at the South Pole in Joseph Silk’s ‘Infinite Cosmos’.

    I have the greatest respect for the professional astronomers and cosmologists, who, for me, are the equivalent of pop stars and sports heroes… except the former endeavour to answer the greatest of all questions with much less publicity.

    What a tragic, awful way for a brilliant mind and career to end. Depression is a truly dreadful illness, and I know, I’ve had first hand experience of it myself, battling with it throughout my adult life. My thoughts go out to Andrew’s colleagues and family.

  • Daina

    I’m very saddened to hear about this tragedy. I’ll never forget Ph1 with Andrew in that freshman physics lecture hall. He was so personable and inspiring, and I loved listening to his lectures and watching his lively demonstrations. Those were some of my best memories at caltech.

    At the time I didn’t have the courage to approach him about getting involved in his research, or even express my gratitude for his wonderful teaching. I wish I’d taken the opportunity to do so, and gotten to know him better. It sounds like he has been a fantastic mentor to many students. I hope that his family appreciates how many lives Andrew has positively touched.

    Perhaps other faculty or students in a similar situation might read some of these blogs, and realize how much of their positive impact on other people sometimes goes unsaid.

  • A former colleague

    Some years ago when I worked for Andrew, I went through a very black time myself. Andrew was unfailingly supportive and encouraged me to take all the time I needed to find my way back. It is beyond tragic that he wasn’t able to find that way though his own struggle.

  • D

    If you respect him you should also respect his decision to take his own life.

  • Karin

    Andrew Lange was the love of my life’s advisor in the early 90s. Andrew was still at UC Berkeley then, and the project they were working on was called SuZIE. Andrew was a lovely, warm, effervescent person. Although it has been many years, he left a strong impression. One of the last times I saw him it was at a casual gathering in Tilden park with graduate students, department folk, their families and significant others. I remember the sense of joy at that gathering and the glee with which he, other adults, and the children collaborated to launch toy rockets.

    What a gifted man. The world was a better place with him here, he will be missed.

    I thank him for the training he gave my man and for the scuba diving, lava, and love of the Big Island that might not currently be part of our lives had it not been for the telescope observing runs.

    There is no shame in suicide, only tragedy.
    Please celebrate and remember the life of this wonderful man.

    For anyone wrestling to understand the how and why, I have found Kay Redfield Jamison’s book, Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, an excellent resource. It restores dignity and understanding to those who wrestle with depression.

    My condolences to everyone whose life Andrew ever touched, especially those closest to him.

  • CarefullWithPills

    This talks about Suicide and Antidepressant pills:

  • Samuel A. (Sam) Cox


    The bottom line is that it is impossible to prevent a person who is really determined, from taking his or her life. When I got morose about the untimely departure of someone, others would remind me that: “Remember, it was their decision”….so your comment rang very true.

    However, I believe one of the keys to preventing suicide lies in communicating to the depressed person a concerned friends unwillingness to let them go. Where there is life there is hope. Once a person is dead, the survivors have no choice but to pick up the pieces of their lives and move on…but, we need to learn something from the experience ourselves.

    Overseas, I would get requests for help from frantic relatives at all hours.
    One mother (with panic) told me she was about to lose her son. I spoke to him and he gave me this Romeo and Juliet BS about death…flowers and beauty. I told him I had seen death up close and personal, and that death stinks…he owed it to himself to avoid it as long as possible. He is still very much alive and recently completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Hawaii.

    People don’t kill themselves for nothing. A suicidal person is in great pain, what they feel is unbearable pain. Suicidal people usually have pretty good reasons for feeling they are unworthy, not wanted and appreciated, or “useless”.

    What a depressed person needs most of all, is support and acceptance. Even knowing there is someone 10,000 miles away who understands can really help, becuase in the latter stages, severely depressed people usually tell themselves that NO one cares…and that if they commit suicide, it doesn’t matter…talk about a lie!

    One of the most respected scientists in the world has s lot in common with the 15th (unwanted) child of a remote subsistance farmer on the islands when it comes to suicide. Intelligence has little to do with it. Severe depression blocks the connection between emotion and reason.

    Which brings me to a final point: have no doubt about it- suicide is almost always an irrational act. The suicide-prone makes unjustified assumptions, and needs to have their assumptions questioned. There IS a future…an even better future regardless of what the depressed person thinks at that moment. We lose a job making five figures and find something which makes 6 or 7. When that kind of thing happens once or twice in our life, we learn to see perceived failure as an opportunity…and that where there is life, there is hope.

    Once dead, any chance for our advancement, gain and worthwhile participation in society is permanently ended. The world, all 6 or 7 billion of the living, continues without us. I’ve told many suicide prone people: “You think you are worthless. You are not worthless- you are very special. However there is one thing you need to remember…suicide is irreversible. The world can and will go on without you. Hang in there. If some people don’t like you or reject you, so what? Find your own friends. Make people put up with you. Carve out a niche for yourself!”

  • Rodney

    “8For we would not, brethern, have you ignorant of out trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:9 But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead:10Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;11Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.12For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.”2nd Corinthians 1:8-12”

  • Noz

    It may sound crazy but is there anything in common with what these people were doing/working on and the result of death?

    I’m always speculative of why someone like Professor Lange would want to take his own life given his position, outlook, progress in work, etc. Why would someone do that?

    I’m sure the military had interest in his work…question is did he have interest in having the military.

  • WLH

    Andrew was my thesis advisor and later collaborator. Working with him was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Andrew was a brilliant scientist, generous mentor, and good friend. I am forever indebted to him, and it seems impossible that he is gone.

  • Shocked

    As a member of the Caltech faculty (in another division), I was shocked to hear about this. In my circles, there are lots of rumors and (mis)information going around, and also wondering about “what is wrong with Caltech”, and whether any of us could’ve done anything. This compounds the suicide a couple of weeks ago of Sam Roweis, a young tenured compsci prof at NYU, who was a Caltech PhD, as well as the three student suicides from last academic year. The overall silence of the Caltech administration is not helping. I don’t mean to sound overly crass or curious, but what are the *facts* concerning this tragic event? I think I speak for many who didn’t know Andrew, who are too untrained in physics to appreciate the magnitude of Andrew’s academic achievements, but who nonetheless feel deeply deeply touched and affected by the ill-ending of one of our colleagues.

  • JER

    Andrew was my long-time collaborator, from Boomerang until yesterday. Those of us who worked with him knew how generous he was with resources, opportunity, and credit. And how he could focus in on problems, illuminate them, so we could – as a team – find solutions. WLH is right – it seems impossible that he is gone. I will be thinking of him for a long time to come.

  • AC

    Andrew took me out to lunch when I visited Caltech trying to decide on a postdoc about 10 years ago. I was primarily working on some theory projects in cosmology and I was very surprised to see that he was interested in my work as I was just a grad student then. After I started at Caltech Andrew emailed me and asked me to attend his group meetings and gave time during his meetings at least three or four times over a couple of years for presentations of my research, still in theory and sometimes hardly CMB related. He introduced me to rest of his incredible team of experimentalists. One still ongoing collaboration with one of his senior team members completely changed my research career for the better, involving a new experiment and my participation in Herschel. If Andrew had not made it a point to welcome a young theorist to his group, I doubt I would be scientifically where I am today. After starting a faculty position elsewhere, Andrew kept in touch and encouraged me to use his data for new projects. Whenever I visited Caltech and saw him in the hallway he always had a few minutes at least to chat about the latest things in research. For everything Andrew has done for me either directly or indirectly as a mentor I am extremely grateful.

  • Guy Guyot

    We cannot understand … it was its decision and we have to respect it. It’s just not acceptable for the the Planck community. He was a motor in the instrumentation development and he gathers people whatever was the conntry and the position. Difficult now to think about Planck withou him …

  • Phillip Helbig

    Someone above, in response to a question, pointed out that attempted suicide is illegal in most states of the US. What’s the motivation behind that? Presumably some religious one, as it doesn’t jibe much with the “land of the free”.

    A while back, some countries used to punish attempted suicide—via the death penalty. No joke.

  • CarefullWithPills

    There is this question of why there have been so many suicides recently at Caltech. My understanding is that suicide can be contagious. If one sees others do it, they consider it more of an option. While in high school, a neighboring high school of approx 1k total students saw 5 suicides in one year. The risk for more suicides at caltech will be higher for a little while, due to this incident. This is possibly why the President, in his note about this, encouraged folks to seek counseling if they are feeling down. The below article talks about how suicide can be contagious.

  • Marco Viero

    The Toronto balloon group regarded Andrew as a mentor and a friend. My condolences to the family. This remains hard to accept.

  • John Battle

    Andrew was always kind and patient with me. He always greeted me with a smile and a sparkle in his eye. I am extremely saddened by the world’s loss of this great scientist and, perhaps more importantly, good person. I will mis his smile.

  • Skribb

    @ Phillip Helbig (#41)

    I don’t know that the law was necessarily created out of religious intent. In general it seems to be a decision made along the idea that it is the governments job to protect its citizens. I see it as a law similar to the ones which force you to wear a seatbelt in a moving vehicle or those that won’t allow you to use illegal drugs, both of which I wouldn’t characterize as being religious laws as much as self-preservation laws.

  • Paula Hines Lonergan

    Andrew Lange would have attended portions of my department’s workshop events this week as he usually did. I made sure his badge was ready for when he arrived. Yet, his badge is not needed now, and I’m very sad and shocked. I wrote this poem below yesterday..I share….

    Reflections on a Tragic Loss

    Did I know him well?
    I would not be truthful to say so.
    He was a colleague,
    Someone I came to know.
    Yet the news of his death pained my heart very much,
    Thinking of the many lives he closely touched.
    Still, he couldn’t see the light, the light he himself had,
    Deep were his emotions, feelings too isolated and sad.
    Now, as the stranger to him I was,
    Should I have been better to him….
    just because?
    I can’t say and I do not know.
    But, as I reflect I must now go,
    Inside myself and continue to grow,
    And care for others and more love do show.
    Taking comfort in the higher power above,
    And finding pleasure in nature and love.
    By looking at the sun rise and the stars at night,
    The ocean’s waves and all their might,
    A puppy’s playing and a gracious smile,
    These are the things that carry us the extra mile,
    Or a lifetime, especially in the darkest moments.
    For the race does not go to the swift.
    Neither does bread go to the wise.
    Time and unforeseen occurrence befall us all.
    To use each day to the full is important, I now realize.
    Knowing life is not spent or wasted in just being,
    As we comfort each other,
    The greater lesson in each experience, the things to learn
    Through the tears and sorrow, we turn
    To memories, to life, to faith, to hope
    As with this loss we try to cope.

    Paula Hines Lonergan

  • Mona S

    I’m shocked and saddened. I’m EE but Physics 1bc with Andrew Lange remains my favorite class in the world…

  • Brian

    I worked for Andrew as a postdoc for 3 years. These were good years for him and the lab, which won many proposals. Andrew won many awards, all well-deserved. He wouldn’t take credit personally. He always spread it around liberally.

    He was a physicist’s physicist. By that I mean he looked at the entire world through the eyes of a physicist. He would say things like “I’ll sell my old car once the odometer reads one light second.” He teased people a lot, but always in good nature. We joked about ideas to get more research money: “Let’s name the telescope ‘Operation Enduring Experiment’ so the DoD will fund it !”.

    To students and postdocs his door was always open. Whenever we could, all the postdocs tried to impress him. When he congratulated you for a good idea or told you he read one of your papers, it made your day. His talks at conferences were always to full-houses. We sought his new insights into the important problems of the field.

    What I will remember most is not just his humanity, competitiveness, brilliance, or his numerous bits of ‘fatherly advice’ as he called it, but how whenever he saw me, he’d tell me about his 3 real sons’ exploits. He was fascinated by the way they saw the world…I think it appealed to the curious kid still inside of him. His office was a museum of their works of art and engineering! I’ll miss his fatherly advice greatly…My heart breaks for his boys. I hope they will find strength in his memory and from the hundreds of people whose lives were touched by their Dad.

  • DaveM

    So very sad and tragic that the world has lost such a beautiful mind.

  • GC

    I met Andrew in 1994-95 when I came to Caltech as a graduate student in EE and started to work with another Caltech astronomy faculty in the Robinson building. We were developing some polarization separation component and needed to use a JPL vector network analyzer. I am from one of those forbidden countries for which NASA requires 6-months advanced notice for a visit to its Labs. Somehow Andrew came to know about my predicament. He wrote a long e-mail to then JPL director Ed Stone saying that JPL should allow any and all students from Caltech to visit JPL irrespective of their country of origin, because THEY are Caltech students! After a few back and forth between him and JPL director, I was allowed to visit JPL for half a day! He need not have taken time from his busy schedule to write lengthy e-mail to JPL director for a first year Caltech EE graduate student, but he did because he was Andrew Lange!

    I continued my collaboration with him and his group over the years. The spark in him was contagious. I always came back to my office with a spring in my steps after attending his group meetings. Many a mornings I would see him sitting outside bldg 168/169 at JPL engrossed in something. Invariably he would say hello and will start discussing the issues of his latest experiments in which I was involved. I am still in shock and can’t believe that he is no more! What a great loss to all of us. May his soul rest in peace now which it apparently could not when he was alive.

  • Roto

    This cuts through my spirit and heart. Andrew was terrific, the best of the best among experimental physicists; warm and interactive and encouraging. I knew him mainly long ago at Berkeley, when he was just an amazing grad student, fun, energetic, the best.

    To me, it shows how incomprehensible suicide is, how much a disease it it, how it can take people you least expect, just like a disease does. If it can take Andrew it can take anyone.

  • RM

    I knew Andrew through our kids. He was a great dad. He took time to befriend me even though he was obviously extremely busy. He was so caring and thoughtful. I am shocked beyond words by his death, and I feel so awful, especially for his family. We have lost a wonderful person.

  • Caltech Student

    Condolences to his family. I can only imagine what would lead him to make such a decision.

    I’m at Caltech now. There has been little meaningful response to any of the recent tragedies. They formed a “Mental Health Task Froce”, charged with making things better (without any funding to do so). Still, I’ve heard most of the suicides were people who were already seeing therapists and using our mental health resources.

    I still think it’s a crappy year to have cut our mental health benefits to save a buck.

  • The AstroDyke

    Thanks to everyone who contributed their remembrances of Andrew. I’m glad to have read them. I just got back from a meeting at Caltech — stunned faces across the campus.

  • JLC

    Why are the good ones taken and the bad ones left behind? Andy was no doubt one of the good ones. What are you doing to the place, President Chameau?

  • Ben

    I did not have the privilege of knowing Andrew Lange, and am very sorry to hear this news.

    It’s normal for friends and acquaintances afterwards to retroactively see signs and to ask if they did enough, or blame themselves, or seek a rationalized explanation in outside forces (the university, economy, work pressures, etc). This is a normal expression of a type of survivor’s guilt. But recrimination with oneself or others after a suicide is also something that is destructive if carried too far. Scientists, in particular, are trained to seek an explanation for everything – but it is an individual act and unfortunately essentially not subject to our kind of explication.

    That’s not to ignore the pressures of a modern life or to diminish the importance of looking out for people, and offering counseling/therapy and minimizing the stigma that many still attach to it. Sam up at #33 expressed a number of things well including what can be done and its limits. Ultimately, I think of irreversible acts as a catastrophic loss of perspective – a loss of the sense that storms will pass – and a reminder to the rest of us to set aside our everyday worries for a moment, to be grateful for the mundane details of existence and health that we take for granted.


  • Ben

    p.s. There are a couple of comments above that suggest that suicide is classified as a crime in the US. It is generally not. Those laws have nearly all been repealed. There are laws against assisted suicide, which is another thing entirely.

  • Robert Kirshner

    This is a terrible loss to all of us.

    I have a vivid memory of visiting Caltech not so long ago and blundering in to Andrew’s group meeting down in some inaccessible corner of Bridge or whatever building that was before Cahill got built. There were postdocs, graduate students, visitors, and Andrew…talking about the science, thinking about the possibilities, looking to the future, which is where all the latest news about the universe arrives. For a scientist, there’s nothing better than that.

    The part that’s so hard for me to understand is how all of this serious fun and joyous anticipation of what comes next somehow came to seem unimportant. I’m not sleeping very well. I’m thinking about Andrew.

  • Peter Mason

    As a long time co-worker and an admirer of Andrew, his work and his personal charm, I can find no words to express the sense of loss we all feel. None of us who worked with him can make sense of the discrepancy between the person we knew and admired and the one who felt the need to leave life.

    That said, I must take vigorous exception to JLC’s criticism in #55 of President Chameau. It is a totally unfair criticism of a man who has brought a deep sense of commitment and compassion to the Caltech campus. JLC is taking a cheap shot at a man he obviously knows nothing about. His comment is untrue and despicable. Also, who are these bad ones who are left behind? The Caltech faculty and students, who are among the very best in the world? The dedicated staff who support us? I challenge JLC to identify himself and his source of such misinformation.

  • Phillip Helbig

    “I don’t know that the law was necessarily created out of religious intent. In general it seems to be a decision made along the idea that it is the governments job to protect its citizens. I see it as a law similar to the ones which force you to wear a seatbelt in a moving vehicle or those that won’t allow you to use illegal drugs, both of which I wouldn’t characterize as being religious laws as much as self-preservation laws.”

    Two differences. In the case of suicide, the intent to kill or be killed is the whole point. Thus, it seems rather bizarre that someone could be deterred due to fear of breaking a law. Second, if someone is killed while not wearing a seatbelt in an accident which was not his own fault, it is difficult to assess the guilt of the other side (an unintentional death is usually punished more than unintentional scratches and bruises); the only option would be to say that people who cause wrecks (drunk driving etc) which kill people without seatbelts aren’t punished at all for the death, which seems rather extreme. The main point, though, is the first one (especially the cases where there is capital punishment for attempted suicide.)

  • Sherry Thompson

    This is a reminder that for many people there is a vast difference and disconnect between who they are on the outside and the way they feel about themselves on the inside. It is sad to think that a person who accomplished so much and meant so much to others, faced such overwhelming internal struggles. May he find peace as he journeys into the Great Unknown.

  • Susan Netterfield

    Andrew, you were a true advisor, colleague and inspiration to my husband. There is a hole in the astronomy/physics community. We are reeling; and you are missed.

  • post-doc in caltech

    I did not know Andrew Lange, but I can’t stop thinking about him.
    It makes me realize how fragile we all are.

    When the young students in Caltech took their own life, there was the thought that they did not have enough support, they were overwhelmed with the academic pressure, and they were young and didn’t have any one to talk to.

    But he had everything to live for, he was established, he knew it all, he gave so much to others, and it didn’t help.

    I wish that life wouldn’t just go on as everything is the same. I wish Caltech would stop everything and have an open discussion about what happened, what we can do to help anyone in our community that needs help and support. Airports are closed when an airplane crushes to prevent more crushes, to make a serious investigation in what went wrong. What made it possible? I wish we would do the same here. Not just an open day in the counseling center, something more than that. We have to commit as a community to help one another, to take our lives seriously, above all.

    I didn’t know Andrew Lange, but people wrote here about a great scientist and a great man, a role model. I wish his death will drive a change in our community, in our commitment to our lives.

  • Eugene

    Oh man. That’s terrible. I still remember Andrew giving the Boomerang first results announcement colloquium in Chicago, and there was a huge “whoa” when he showed the first peak.


  • Samuel A. (Sam) Cox


    Sherry’s ccomments are very perceptive.

    Depending on the way we grow up, we may tend to be over-controlled…there may be a private part of our lives we don’t, won’t and/or feel we can’t share…even with our most trusted friends.

    There is something to be said in favor of (insistently) being who and what we really are. That tack may not always make everybody happy… but we find out who our real friends are! One thing that gets politicians (for example) in trouble, is that they want everybody to like them…they have a need to be “all things to all people” in order to succeed in their chosen profession.

    That approach to life definitely has a downside! For most people, how many friends do they need anyway…how many can they afford? There is no reason for most of us to try to share everybodies values. One really good friend is a sure-cure for loneliness!

    About that “great unknown”. Young men in the islands considered suicide an act of bravery…when the truth was that for most of them it was an attempt to escape an intolerable situation. That is why we immediately sent them on a little vacation when we realized they were “near the edge”…we helped them “escape” and at the same time bolstered their sagging ego a bit.

    Many of the concepts of science fiction may in fact be already a real part of the world we experience. Death may be a worm-hole back to the delivery room or elsewhere (the great unknowm). Death might also be a ticket to nowhere! To some depressed people that last alternative sounds pretty good…but is that alternative correct? We need to be careful with our assumptions!

    All people are mortal…we all, sooner or later experience death. My point to those considering suicide was that death is much better experienced later than sooner. When natural forces take us to the edge of eternity…what can we do about it? Willingly or very unwillingly, we go.

    However to tempt death by living fast and loose, or actually deliberately committing suicide is most ill-advised! The men in the islands acted like they were Christopher Columbus off exploring some worm-hole, but their physics was far from straight!…in fact, they had never studied physics. We wouln’t want to get in a bind down there. It would be great to find “dear old dad”, but what would happen if we got stuck and couldn’t find our way out?

    Life is a gift…it meets most of the criteria of a gift anyway. Making the most of what we have, it seems to me, is important.

  • http://Yahoo Helen Knudsen

    There were suicides ‘way back when I was at Robinson / Astro Library. Group discussions followed, where those who worked with Peter were able to talk about what they knew and to learn what they needed to know.
    Silence about suicide– is deadly. Please, everyone, get together and share/learn as much as you can, then support everyone with whom you come into contact. Cox is right. We all need each other, and–more importantly–we all need to KNOW that we need each other.
    Astro grad students on up to Div. Chairmen all need support from those important to them.

  • John Odden

    While I did not know Prof. Lange and was not on campus during his time, I am deeply touched by the sentiments shared here. Human life is truly fragile. Perhaps we tend to forget this when we see an exceptional person who leads us forward and treats us so well. Caltech is a rare and special place – at least it was during my too-short time there and I am greatly encouraged that Prof. Lange seems to be one of many who expanded that heritage. My profound condolences go to all his colleagues and loved ones.

    At a time like this, one wants to contribute to easing the burden some way, some how. I can only think of a charge I once received from a widely feared, aged Ivy League professor: “Ask ‘how can I help?’ then just do that very well, report back and ask again.” I’ve used this simple approach in times like this. I’ve been stunned by the range of requests I’ve fulfilled, by what I’ve gained and by the response of those I’ve served. Part of the “secret” of this charge is to ask frequently, ask unbidden. Ask once or twice during your day. People in all circumstances are receptive to such a simple and direct offer in today’s world. If all you hear back is “No, but thanks for asking” then you have changed the world.

  • MA

    There’s been quite a few years since I was a senior at Caltech and Andrew was my senior thesis adviser. He was the most nurturing adviser I ever had, he was always smiling and supportive and I really regarded him as a father.
    When I got into more grad schools and was looking for advice on where to go he told me this: “Imagine yourself 3 years from now waking up in the morning. Are you happy of yourself?” I followed his fatherly advice, though imagination and reality are different, but now when more than 3 years passed since then, I see that happiness is relative to the bad moments we go through.

    On a different note, I have always thought of Caltech as a community where everybody is a dreamer, but then the cruel reality cuts those dreams short in the name of safety or efficiency. We were young, we needed to express our enthusiasm and energy through a lot of crazy things, we had a fire pot in the house I was in where I was in, we used to go to the desert in the middle of nowhere and blow a lot of things, we used to flood the courtyard and turn it into a huge pool. The administration was ALWAYS coldheartedly against us trying to keep the “image” of Caltech “clean” and keep everybody “safe”. Where is that image? We need people whose crazy dreams are likely to become reality, if you kill those dreams in the people who are there, Caltech will surely die and its image will die soon after. I was last year on campus and I saw the South Houses with big metal gates around, it was so sad, they looked like a concentration camp.
    The campus has one smile less now and it should be careful, there are not so many left.

  • another former student

    I’m really late to the discussion, but I have a perspective from someone in the wake of multiple suicides.

    I was a former student when two suicides affected the Caltech community, and I was left reeling. I struggled with suicidal thoughts well after I graduated. It is very likely I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for several things.
    First, I immediately went and got extensions for my exams and courses. The Dean was quite understanding. There is no reason to try and finish those problem sets if you’re distraught.
    Second, I took time off from school. Caltech is not a good environment for students, and this is not an administrative problem only. It is a deep-rooted problem which, as others have mentioned, is the tip of the iceberg, at other colleges too.
    Third, I talked to people, but not in time. The Dean was good, the Counseling Center was good, but family and peers are essential. Students at Caltech think, that since they’re bright, or exceptional, or somehow different, that their thoughts and emotional life are unrelatable to others. This is a wrong thought. By the time I reached out to my friends, emotional problems had already piled up more than I could handle.
    If you are students, and you are reading this, remember: do not assume that since you are smart, you are safe, and you can think your way out of suicide or depression. Rational introspection is not the way out, and you cannot always answer your own questions. If you are in emotional pain, find someone you trust to talk to. Now.

  • Eva Silverstein

    This is terrible. Having had the pleasure last year of a visit with Andrew
    and his group at Caltech, whose excitement and camaraderie were palpable,
    I can only imagine what those very close to him are feeling. Not to mention
    the tragedy of what he must have been going through. Best wishes to all
    those close to him.

  • Phillip Helbig

    There seems to be a tendency in some of the comments to associate Lange’s suicide with other recent Caltech suicides. Based on other comments, however, his seems independent of the others. While Caltech might need to take some action with respect to the “Caltech suicides”, citing Lange’s isn’t a good step in that direction if it is unrelated.

  • teacher of gifted

    Many comments on these blogs seems to polarize around the issues of 1. the responsibility of Caltech 2. the connection between the suicide of Andrew Lange and the 3 student suicides last year (not to mention those of students/colleagues 1 or 2 years out). I believe this both simplifies and obfuscates the problem. Scientific giftnessness does not correlate with emotional giftedness; if anything, the opposite might be true. And here enters the role of teachers, especially those teaching liberal arts to science students. They are the canaries in the coal mine, so to speak. By the very nature of the personal work/interaction they require, they intuit problems early on. They intervene early on. They provide support early on. Unfortunately, they can also be dismissed early on, especially when budgets get tight and those doing the cutting are utterly clueless to the role they play in the coal mine

  • DL

    It is hard to express how sad this news is.
    I did not have direct interaction with Andrew Lange, but I remember vividly a talk by him on the BOOMERANG around 2001. At that time, I was a postdoc who became increasingly uncomfortable with problems in academia. Andrew Lange’s talk was one of these rare talks that was so inspiring and reassuring — showing in a convincing way why physics can still be fun and worthy, and despite all the pressure to survive, one could still focus on important problems, give credits to others, and be communicative of the deep and difficult results.

  • The AstroDyke
  • Paula Hines Lonergan

    A Week Went/Gone By

    In silence so loud, with words unsaid,
    Do others really know what’s in my head?
    For I think about the loss each and every day,
    But in all the blank faces don’t know what to say.
    I suppose neither do others, but I don’t know
    And I’m not sure if I should say so
    Or should anyone?
    Or should no one?
    But that seems bad,
    As a person recently died who was so sad,
    Alone in his own thought and feeling
    To leave me and others behind reeling
    Not knowing what to do or say
    And wondering if it’s really right and okay
    to talk about it all out loud anyway?

    PHL 1/28/10

  • Eileen Leech

    Professor Andrew Lange was my friend in high school and college. (He was known as “Andy” then!) We had lost touch over the years, but I occasionally read about him in the newspaper and I thought it was wonderful that his achievements were broadening our knowledge about the origins and character of the universe. Even back in high school he had a unique way of looking at things, and he was tremendously well-liked and respected. The world always seemed a better and brighter place for his presence, and I am so very sorry that he is no longer with us. My heart goes out to his family and friends and I pray that they will find peace and be comforted.

  • Recent Caltech Alum

    I did not know Prof. Lange personally but friends who did are deeply saddened by his loss.

    At least three of the four recent suicides, including his, are known to have use the same method. It’s also been known for months that the two undergrads specifically used the exact same method.

    The successive suicides in such a small and close knit community, and the knowledge of a easy and reliable method, may be influencing people to act on their suicidal thoughts. This is a time for all members of the community to look out for each other.

  • http://None Andy Young

    I can’t pretend to understand Dr. Andrew Lange’s work. In fact, I couldn’t even figure out what he and most of the rest of the kids were doing when we were in physics class together during our senior year of high school.

    I began my formal education one morning in September of 1962 at Samuel Staples School in Easton, Connecticut. Andy Lange started his academic career a few hours later, since kids on the north side of town did their half-day of kindergarten in the afternoon.

    The two of us attended many of the same classes through Grade 8, and quite a few more after we moved up to the regional high school in neighboring Redding. In addition to sharing a first name, each of us was the oldest of three children. We both played Little League baseball. We attended the same birthday parties. We were about the same size and build, and both of us had a one-syllable last name that ended with a “G’ sound. Sometimes during the first week of a new school year teachers would joke about having two Andys in the class and wonder aloud how they’d be able to tell us apart. But it never took them long to figure out which of us was which.

    Andy Lange’s test scores were always located on the lower left-hand side of the bell curve. Mine were generally found on the extreme right. A significant percentage of the acceptance I got in high school was derived from the knowledge other kids had that as long as I was in the class, none of them had to worry about getting the lowest grade. On more than one occasion Andy Lange was class president. I was the perennial class clown.

    Andy Lange achieved international renown as a cosmologist, but as a kid in Easton he was always something even more significant: a truly nice person. As a teenager he was universally liked and admired by everyone at Joel Barlow High School: faculty, honor students, jocks, musicians, cigarette smokering rebels, and everyday Joes and Janes. His always-inclusive manner featured a unique and impish sense of humor. He had no discernable mean streak, which then as now was unusual for an adolescent male. He never flaunted his considerable cerebral talents, and treated everyone with respect. Whatever the opposite of an elitist is was what Andy Lange was.

    Apparently he hadn’t changed in that regard. Many of the postings here reflect that. It’s striking that he was loved at least as much for who he was than admired for being what he was. Whoever said, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice,” must have been thinking about Andy.

    When I first heard of my old friend’s untimely passing I briefly thought about how impressive it was that someone from our small hometown could rate a detailed obituary in the New York Times. But I’d much prefer to have read an eloquent summary of Doctor Lange’s remarkable 80 or 90 year life three or four decades from now, rather than catching up on his noteworthy but all too short one now.

  • Patti Witten

    Terrible, shocking, sad news. Like Eileen and Andy (#76 and 78) I knew Andy from grade school (I remember the 2 Andys!). After high school (where I was one of the “cigarette smokering rebels”) we never met again until Andy found me on the web and emailed me in July of last year. I was very impressed by his accomplishments and he graciously made much of my small ones. We exchanged a couple of emails, promising to look for an opportunity to meet in Ithaca where another grade school friend also lives. I wish we had not put it off.

    Many of you know him as a warm, generous adult. To me he will always be Prince Charming to my Cinderella, as in the 4th grade school play, and my first official boyfriend, who rode his bicycle up the spectacular hills to my family’s home in Easton, CT.

    My heart goes out to his family, friends, and colleagues, and to all who feel this loss.

  • Bill Bartosik

    As a member of the Barlow Class of 1973, I remember Andy as that young guy who racked up all the awards and honors in high school. As Andy Young and Patti have already mentioned, I also remember him as a truly nice guy. I’ve just heard from Bob Cox, who was the advisor for the Barlow yearbook, for which Andy was the photography editor. Bob remembers him as “one of the brightest, most cheerful and helpful kids I ever worked with.” Clearly he was on his way to great things even at that early age. His passing is a great loss to the world of science, as well as to those of us who remember him from earlier days.

  • NTC

    IMHO, perhaps places like CalTech is not such a great idea. With one of the largest concentration of left brain types in the country, if not the world, it’s a great place for advancing research, but it is also rather bubble-like and ultimately unhealthy.
    To be happy, human beings need to use both sides of their brains. If someone is extremely good at using their left side, chances are s/he’s not so good at using their right. S/He might need help developing some kind of balance, for instance by hanging out with right brainers, learning their language, way of looking and doing etc… If, instead, s/he’s in a place like CalTech, the chances of running into right brainers is low. No one, not even the person, will notice or understand any distress s/he might feel.
    My two cents worth…

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  • Robert Cox

    I was so saddened to hear of Andy’s untimely death though it has been thirty five years since I last saw him. 

    I knew him for four years while he was a student and I was a young English teacher at his high school in Connecticut.  I was a first year yearbook adviser and Andy as a Freshman started hanging around the office with his camera in tow. He was a such a  reliable, talented, good humored, responsible young man I knew I needed him there to help make our work a success. I was impressed with the respect his classmates had for him and the collegial way he worked with the staff.  Those years working with him were a pleasure. 

    I remember a long afternoon driving him around to sites in Redding so he could take pictures of historical sites for a section in the yearbook we were hoping would celebrate the bicentenial of the town.

    And I remember particularly how he worked with one of the younger would be photographers on our staff who couldn’t manage to turn in a roll of film that wasn’t consistently out of focus!  We puzzled over what to do about it.  My impatient thought was not to issue the fellow any more film until he learned how to focus his camera.

    It was Andy who figured out that the younger photographer needed to have his eyes examined. Andy convinced him to have an exam and within two weeks his young mentee showed up wearing glasses and happily handed in the first of many rolls of film we could use!

    Looking at the tributes that have been written about Andy in the days since his unsettling death I am struck by the number of people who were helped by him: helped by his guidance, his teaching, his mentoring influence, his kindness and sensitivity.

    Remarkably, young Andy showed me a patient path to working with a student and gave a classmate a clearer view of his surroundings. Isn’t that what he did for all of us in giving us a clearer vision of the expanding universe? Such lifelong consistency. Such a loss. My heart goes out to his family and friends.

  • Steve Trinkaus

    I, like Andy Young did not know what Andy Lange did after High School, but I too remember him as being one, if not the nicest kid in high school. While he was a smart kid, he was friends with everyone. Thanks to Mr. Cox for mentioning Andy with his camera, I remember him walking around school taking all the “candid” shots for the yearbook of the other students. My condolences to his family and all those who knew and worked with him over the years.

  • Margaret Go

    My deepest sympathies at the loss of Prof. Andrew Lange. My heart aches for his loved ones and for the Caltech students.
    I can’t go into the many objections I have to many of the comments above, including the comment about scientists not being emotionally intelligent, among others. The fact is that scientists and poets are two of a handful of professions with the highest rates of suicide. Science has not explained why.
    I agree with the woman who mentioned the book, “Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide” by Kay Redfield Jamison as a very important book for all of us to read. Another is Andrew Solomon’s “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression.” Although suicide is a leading killer world-wide and is the second-leading cause of death in college-aged students, many of us are completely ignorant of the research and facts surrounding mental illlness. If heart disease were the second-leading cause of death on college campuses, I believe college policy and health services would look very different and our sympathy and outreach to those beset by these illnesses would be very different.
    Regarding suicide contagion, yes, this is a well-researched and very real phenomenon. I should know: I am the mother of Brian Go. My brilliant and beloved son was both academically and emotionally intelligent, beloved by many, but he suffered and died while at Caltech from a treatable mental illness. He had gone to counseling off and on for all three years he attended. He attempted suicide on May 3, reported his own suicide attempt to a dean and a counselor the following day, was evaluated, and let back into the community, where he continued to ideate. We were never called. Many, many people at Caltech knew my son had attempted suicide. Not one person thought to call us. If you are interested, you can read the whole story by googling my son’s name. You will reach “My Death Space.” There you may read my response to the callous and presumptuous article posted there by someone in the Caltech counseling center maligning my son by saying he didn’t reach out. He did. President Chameau encourages students to seek help at the counseling center, but knowing what I know, please parents, get professional mental health care for your adult children with a psychiatrist outside of Caltech!
    I agree with the person who posted that suicide attempts must be taken seriously. Call 911 if you have to. Do not promise confidentiality. As mental health staff at Stanford advise their resident advisors, “It is better to have someone angry and alive than dead and dead.”
    So, our brilliant, loving, and kind son now lies under two feet of snow in a nearby cemetery as I write, but at least he is finally home with us in Maryland. If I had EVER known how very strict the privacy laws are in California, I would never, ever have let him step foot in that state, let alone on the Caltech campus. He loved Caltech and we loved Caltech, but I have never had an illusion shattered so horrendously in my life. I was shaky before about placing trust in institutions. I am now cynical beyond measure at what institutions are capable of. I believe that there is a very scary tendency for individuals to surrender their morals to the interests of the institution, and it is my belief that this is what happened in the case of our son’s death. Parents, I urge you to seek an investigation, for the safety of your children, into all of these deaths. I am not publicly blaming anyone, but we need to look at the privacy laws and have the standards for suicide attempt notification clarified and perhaps standardized, so our children’s lives are not left in the hands of deans unrehearsed in the horrors of mental illness, let alone 20-year-old undergrads, who in my son’s case, were left to become sick themselves trying to keep my son from killing himself.
    I weep for Andrew Lange, Brian Go, Jackson Wang, and Mr. Tran, and for their pain, and I continue to educate myself on depression and its prevention and will work on advocacy to improve benighted mental health policies on college campuses.

  • Margaret Go

    My apologies: Long Phan is the name of the graduate student who died this summer. All of the deceased, along with their family, friends, and colleagues, are in my daily prayers.

  • Melanie Mitchell

    I met Andy Lange about 30 years ago when I was a student at Brown University and he was taking a year off from Princeton, living in Providence, RI. Like many others, I was quickly charmed by his intelligence, good looks, humor, and kindness. I remember spending hours with him in Brown’s little observatory on the roof of the physics building, finding ( through breaks in the Rhode Island clouds) all the Messier objects that we could see with our 16″ Celestron telescope, and talking about the nature of the universe. Andy quickly became one of our small group of local astronomy geeks, and I think we all sensed back then that he was the one headed for scientific greatness. I hadn’t seen him since those college days, but over the years I followed his amazing career, always thinking that he was one of those rare people who “had it all”. I was stunned and extremely sad to hear of his death; it is incomprehensible to me how someone so gifted in all areas of life could be unhappy enough to end that life. It shows what a fragile thing contentment is, for any of us. My heart goes out to Andy’s family and friends, and especially to his kids.

  • Margaret Go

    My intent is not to grind an axe in a forum whose purpose is to honor a man and mourn the death of someone who by all accounts appeared to be a wonderful man and brilliant scientist. I feel it my duty to impress upon people after my son’s death that depression is a monster illness, a killer if left untreated, and sometimes terminal. It renders the sufferer indifferent to or incapable of experiencing any of the vitality that permeated his or her life. It is not mere unhappiness that plagued Professor Lange, it was a scourge like no other: depression.

    Other scientists who appeared to have had it all but who committed suicide:

    Anyone who lives with a severe form of this disease and still manages to contribute to the world like Professor Lange did has my undying admiration. I believe Job had it easier from some of the accounts I’ve read of people who’ve suffered from severe depression.

  • teacher of gifted

    Mrs. Go,
    I ache for your loss and I’m sorry that my comment about “emotional intelligence” added to your grief. I wish I had used another term. I meant not emotional sensitivity or depth or range or vitality but merely the textbook definition that includes “managing and regulating emotions”. To quote wikipedia, “the emotionally intelligent person can harness emotions, even negative ones, and manage them to achieve intended goals.” Thinking about this now, and in light of everyone’s sorrow, I wish I had formulated my idea with more sensitivity.

  • Margaret Go

    Not to worry, teacher of gifted. As thinking, feeling fellow human beings, I think all of our minds and hearts are roiling with a lot of different thoughts and emotions. I think it’s also human nature to want answers to the reasons for these awful events. I have thought of the themes your post alludes to, as have others. I simply think we as a society need to learn more about depression and mental illness and try to contain or alleviate the symptoms of the sufferers. We can’t save everyone, but we can save some.
    Let’s love those who have died these tragic deaths and hate the disease. I knew my son and from what I’ve read of Professor Lange and the other students who died, they seemed like exceedingly fine people. I am currently watching some courses on DVD on free will and determinism as well as the neurobiology of certain behaviors. These are age-old questions that we are puzzling over. Enlightened thinking may, however, change social policy, help the mentally ill, and lessen the suffering of those people left to grieve and suffer calumny in the wake of deaths by suicide. Here is what my husband spoke in Brian’s eulogy (a change in policy–in former times, suicides were not eulogized, not allowed to be buried in the same cemetery as believers;many were buried with a stake through their hearts and underneath a crossroads. So we’ve evolved, but we need to continue to evolve.):

    “How easy it is for many of us to consider those who are academically inclined as two-dimensional people, bookish and isolated. Brian defied these stereotypes, and his life may be a wake-up call to us never to underestimate the mysteries of the human spirit and the sacred and unique wonder of each human being.”

    I honor here the sacred and unique wonder of Professor Andrew Lange and his many, many accomplishments and gifts to the world in both his public and private life. May he rest in peace and may those of us who carry on honor the values and kindness he exemplified so well in life.

  • Undergraduate Alum

    Andrew was an outstanding lecturer. Of all the lectures I attended at Caltech, his are among the most memorable. I am really saddened to hear of this tragic news and my thoughts go out to his friends and family.

  • Paula Hines Lonergan

    Andrew is not forgotten.


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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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