I just returned from a small conference on “Observations of Dust in Nearby Galaxies” at the University of Arizona in Tucson. It honored Chad Engelbracht, an influential astronomer in the field who rather suddenly passed away in January, before his 44th birthday.
It was great to be back in Tucson! This was my first visit since I moved away in 2012. I worked as a postdoc at the University of Arizona—an internationally renowned center of theoretical, observational, and instrumental astronomy—for three years, and I spent much of that time working with Chad on research projects with the Key Insights on Nearby Galaxies: a Far-Infrared Survey with Herschel (KINGFISH) and Herschel Inventory of The Agents of Galaxy Evolution (HERITAGE) surveys. Chad has written numerous publications on extragalactic infrared astronomy, especially on the distributions of dust, stars, and gas within galaxies in the “local universe.” He was also the MIPS Instrument Scientist for the Spitzer telescope, which enabled a lot of excellent research by others.
As you may know, I’m trained in theoretical astrophysics, and my expertise is in the large-scale structure of the universe, dark matter, galaxy formation, and cosmology, and when I’ve used data, they’ve usually been in optical wavelengths. Needless to say, I had a steep learning curve to navigate in order to work on my infrared research, and Chad helped me up it. Chad was my friend and colleague, and I really enjoyed working with him. He was patient with me, had a great sense of humor, gave me insightful suggestions and feedback, and helped me produce interesting results. (The two main papers we wrote together are here and here.) If I continue with my academic career, he would be one of my role models.
Chad also liked beer, so we definitely got along well. While I worked at Steward Observatory, he and I and others in the “infrared wing” frequently went to 1702 for pizza and beer for lunch. The night before the conference, many of his old friends and I went back to 1702 for a few pints. Chad also liked to play the computer game Quake, where he was known as “Chuckles the clown.” During her opening remarks at the conference, Joannah Hinz said, “Since no one is admitting to have played Quake, it seems that Chad must have been playing it by himself!” Well, I’ll admit that Chad didn’t have to twist my arm much to convince me to play it when I was at Arizona, and when I’d gotten a new computer, his first task was to make sure that Quake ran on it well. The game made for a good afternoon break and a funny way to interact with people. (If you’re wondering, I played as The Tick.)
Many of Chad’s colleagues and collaborators attended and spoke at the conference, including Rob Kennicutt, Margaret Meixner, Bruce Draine, Maud Galametz, and Dennis Zaritsky. I was moved by all of the personal and astronomical tributes to Chad throughout the conference. It’s clear that he influenced, inspired, and was respected by many people. His legacy lives on.
Chad is survived by his parents and siblings, his wife Sue Dubuque, their three children (Max, Sydney, and Henry), and his numerous friends. He is missed.