Today, some very painful news reached me. My father informed me of the death of my undergraduate mentor in physics, Dr. Michael Schmidt. After a long battle with cancer, he passed on November 18. Michael was one of the reasons I survived my time as an undergrad at Yale. Without his patience, guidance, and wisdom, it’s likely my first experience with physics research would have been much less sweet.
One of my fondest memories was a day of splitting and stacking wood from some trees Michael had cut in his yard. A bunch of us, students and post-docs in his group, drove down from New Haven to Madison to spend the day with a rented wood-splitting machine, avoiding hornet nests in the wood pile and pulling splinters out of our arms. Our labor was rewarded with a great dinner with Michael’s family, including his wife and children. The evening ended with Michael playing the guitar, his son requesting songs and Michael belting them out. I remember most of all his rendition of Green Day’s “Time of your Life”.
I still pull my undergraduate thesis off the shelf every now and then, wondering at what Michael helped me accomplish in just a year, and wondering more how I ever understood what I was doing back then. I was a stupid, foolish, naive kid who wanted to soak up knowledge and do great research. Michael made sure I stayed on the straight and narrow path, and tried to give me last guidance before I headed off to graduate school. I have had many mentors in my life, and Michael is now the second I have lost who was a great influence on my life in physics.