Eulogy for Prof. Alex B. Gershman
With great sadness we bid farewell to our esteemed colleague and beloved friend who passed away on Friday morning of August 12, 2011.
Alex was born in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, in 1962. Both his parents were scientists, and he was their only child. He studied Radiophysics at the Nizhny Novgorod State University, where he received his Diploma. He started his research career in 1984 at the Gorky Radiotechnical Institute where he completed his PhD in 1990. He then joined the Institute of Applied Physics of the Russian Academy of Science as a Research Scientist. In the summer of ’94, Alex and his wife Olia started their journey abroad. After a short period at EPFL, Switzerland, he was awarded a prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship at the Signal Theory Group of Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany. He stayed in Bochum until 1999, when he moved to Canada as Associate Professor at McMaster University. He was appointed Full Professor at McMaster three years later. In the meantime, he received the very prestigious 2001 Wolfgang Paul Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. In 2003, Alex returned to Germany as visiting professor and founder of the highly recognized Smart Antennas Research Team at the University of Duisburg-Essen. In 2005 he joined Darmstadt University of Technology, as Professor and Head of the Communication Systems Group. His research interests span the areas of signal processing and wireless communications, with primary emphasis on statistical signal and array processing, beamforming, direction finding spectral analysis, physics-based radar and sonar, and multi-antenna communications.
Alex has been a brilliant, ambitious, and highly accomplished researcher – one of the very best in his area, worldwide. Besides the Wolfgang Paul Award “in recognition of outstanding achievements in science”, Alex won the 2008 Advanced Investigator Grant from the European Research Council – the most prestigious research award in Europe. He was appointed Fellow of IEEE at the age of 42. He coauthored papers that received three best paper awards from IEEE. He won the 2002 Young Explorers Prize from the Canadian Institute for Advance Research, honoring Canada's top 20 researchers in science and engineering aged 40 and under. Alex (co-)authored some 130 journal and 200 conference papers. As of this writing, his work has over 4000 citations
He was an outstanding teacher and advisor, known for his inspiring encouragement of young researchers that went way beyond his own academic descendants.
In parallel to his excellence in research and teaching, Alex has been a committed and effective volunteer, who served IEEE and the Signal Processing Society in numerous roles – from the trenches to leadership positions. He was Chair of the Sensor Array and Multichannel Technical Committee, Editor-in-Chief of IEEE Signal Processing Letters, and elected Member-at-large of the Board of Governors of the IEEE Signal Processing Society. He often took leadership roles in organizing conferences and workshops such as SAM2008 here in Darmstadt, and co-founding the CAMSAP series of workshops in 2005.
Alex had an exceptionally difficult path. He accomplished so much in such a short life span, and it was not easy. A good friend of mine says that it takes at least π times more talent and effort for an immigrant to succeed. Alex learned the ropes and distinguished himself in two continents in a row, in less than 15 years. His factor must be at least π2.
Alex was a citizen of the world. He loved life, travel, and trying out food of all kinds (occasionally lots of it). He was talented not only in math and science, but also in foreign languages. He knew how to navigate around obstacles and how to compromise, but never compromised principles. An imposing and confident man, and at the same time humble, generous, amicable, and quick to give two pads in the back to every worthy young and aspiring fellow. Looking at the responses of his friends and colleagues after they learned of his passing, a few stand out in consensus: as IEEE SPS President Mos Kaveh put it Alex was a “gentle bear of a friend, in addition to a brilliant technical and professional colleague. His mark on signal processing will live on just as will his generosity and friendship in our hearts”; a “generous soul”; “big smile”; and “true gentleman”. Alex was so much appreciated that the outpouring of support from colleagues all around the world to a spontaneous suggestion to establish an education fund for his 6-year old son Stephan comes as no surprise.
Alex was at the pinnacle of his career and life. He was on top of his game, a respected research leader and happy family man. He really loved and deeply cared for his wife Olia, and his son Stephan was his greatest source of happiness in recent years. He often recounted a singular day in early 2004, when he first heard from Olia that she was pregnant, and right afterwards Abdelhak Zoubir called him to tell him he was elected for the Professor position at TU Darmstadt. Alex picked up the calls while driving, and he had to pull over and stop the engine because he was shaking out of happiness.
Alex’s untimely death seems timed for an ancient Greek tragedy. But Alex is not fit for tragedy. Throughout his life, he permeated enthusiasm and positive energy, and gave a brave fight with remarkable courage and dignity till the very end. He picked up that fight with the same invincible determination for which he was known, although he finally had to leave us. As he himself expressed in his last days, he was grateful for every day he was able to spend with his wife and son.
As another friend said, he is “one of those special ones that take off early to be with God”. I’m sure he’s smiling at us now from up there.
We are all proud of him. May God rest his soul in peace.
Nikos Sidiropoulos, Marius Pesavento and Abdelhak Zoubir