David Schramm

About 16 years ago New York Times science columnist Dennis Overbye wrote an essay, "Remembering David Schramm, Gentle Giant of Cosmology". It sketched out a bit of the life and work and style of Schramm, the astrophysicist, professor, and wrestler. Some of Overbye's images:

The first thing you needed to know about David Schramm was that he wouldn't hurt you — not unless you got in his way on a racquetball court or a wrestling mat or unless he had cajoled you onto some mountain with no way down. Not unless you took issue with his classic computations on how the elements were formed in the thermonuclear furnace of the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe, in which latter case he would form a posse from his mafia of astrophysical confederates and perform the intellectual equivalent of beating you to death with a baseball bat.

At 6 feet 4 inches and 230 pounds, his red-topped head cocked bemusedly in his soft chuckle, David Schramm, cosmologist, the Louis Block Distinguished Service Professor in the Physical Sciences and vice president for research of the University of Chicago, indefatigable champion of the Big Bang theory of the universe, one-time Olympic wrestling hopeful and sole proprietor of Big Bang Aviation, was impossible to ignore, especially when he indulged his characteristic habit of lifting his thick arms, as during the heat of argument, as if to squeeze your head. ...

... When Dr. Schramm, 52, plowed his twin-engine Cessna into a Colorado wheat field a week before Christmas and died, cosmologists and astronomers could not believe he was gone. It was as if a mountain had suddenly and inexplicably disappeared from the landscape. Rock stars die in plane crashes. Astronomers are supposed to die in bed, sunken by the gravity of a lifetime of solemn thoughts and shy nighttime excursions into the depths of the cosmos, wreathed in a nebulosity of eminence. In the world of the universe, however, Dr. Schramm was a rock star, ... a gentle giant, a larger-than-life adventurer who played hard at both science and life, and whose energy and optimism inspired those around him to be better than they were.

Around Chicago they called him Schrambo for his physical audacity and feats, but his real daring had been mental, prodding his colleagues and the rest of the scientific world, especially particle physicists, to take seriously the implications of the Big Bang. ... He personified greatness, but it was not a selfish greatness. It radiated outward. In his presence you felt that could be better than you were.

(cf. Late Physicists (2000-09-24), Fast Forward (2002-02-21), Rich Flammang (2002-08-14), Chandra Stories (2004-02-25), Hannes Alfven (2004-10-16), Hans Bethe (2004-11-29), Ray Davis (2006-06-03), Physics Today Obits (2010-10-20), ...) - ^z - 2014-09-14