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In memoriam: Maolin Zhang

We are grief-stricken that our PhD student Maolin Zhang passed away during the early morning of January 17th 2019. He died during a terrible fire that took place at his house in Hillegom.

Maolin was born on July 25th 1991 and grew up in the countryside near Yangtang Village, Shuangqiao Town, Qidong County, Hunan Province, China. After graduating from secondary school, he was admitted to the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing. He obtained a Masters degree in Engineering from the Department of Engineering Physics there in July 2016. His Master’s thesis was entitled ‘Interferometric imaging and data processing’.

During the summer of 2014 he participated in a student program at the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON) at Dwingeloo, the Netherlands. Supervised by Tom Oosterloo he used observations taken by the Westerbork radio telescope to study the distribution of hydrogen gas in galaxies. His exposure to radio astronomy motivated Maolin to apply for a scholarship from the Chinese Scholarship Council (CSC) to pursue a PhD in radio astronomy at Leiden Observatory. After being awarded this prestigious scholarship, Maolin travelled to Leiden in mid-2017 and started on a PhD project supervised by Prof. Huub Röttgering that involved observations of the distant Universe by the LOFAR radio telescope. During his first year at Leiden Maolin’s research concentrated on the analysis of LOFAR results on the formation and evolution of massive galaxies and black holes. He reduced data for a sample of radio sources whose properties indicate that they are located at extremely large distances. The results provided an important contribution to a paper that was led by Aayush Saxena, another Leiden PhD student.  

During his second year, Maolin helped develop a new Bayesian technique to select large and well-defined samples of quasars from a multi-wavelength combination of data from recent surveys from optical telescopes and radio surveys from the LOFAR telescope. Working closely with Ken Duncan, Jonah Wagenveld and his promotor Huub Röttgering, he was well on his way to publishing his first paper.

Maolin was an extremely intelligent, hardworking and dedicated student with a passion for astronomy. He was eager to learn, always seeking to develop his skills, knowledge and experience further. We know Maolin as friendly, always smiling, modest and grateful for his chances in life. He had many interests outside of astronomy, including table tennis, tennis, Chinese chess, cooking and fishing. As a board member of the Leiden Science China community (LSC), he was an active member of the Chinese community at Leiden University. In his enthusiastic, diligent, and helpful way he was responsible for promoting various events organized by the LSC.  He designed the nice logo of the LSC.

The loss of Maolin leaves a deep hole at the heart of our institute. It has been a privilege to know Maolin and to work with him, and it is hard to realise that he is not among us any more. Maolin’s journey to unravel the mysteries of the universe has come to a shocking and unexpected end. We will always remember Maolin as a bright star in our universe.

In memory of Maolin, we’ve created a special place in the Oort building, (Oortkamer, room 531).
It offers a place to think about him, to leave a message in a condolence book and to share your grief with colleagues, students and friends.

There was a home for you
in an exciting, cold and exotic place
with statistics and machines
dissecting the seemingly lifeless universe
probing galaxies
so far out

a living bubble surrounded by alien words
your lampoon brightening the ocean
preying on fish
fish and discovery
discovery and science
warming all bubbles in sight
the communal hot tub of life
a strange ride
encounter and adventure on your way
somehow something popped your bubble
way too soon
how can we grapple with something
so far out

The path of least resistance is straight up
from the place you first opened your eyes
from the place you first gazed up
some travel farther than others
explore further than others
so far out

You are one of them
You are one of us

We miss you Maolin

An anonymous astronomy PhD student

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