David C. Knill
  • 53 years old
  • Date of birth: Nov 1, 1960
  • Date of passing: Oct 6, 2014

Please share your memories of a remarkable scientist, teacher, and friend. 

Memorial Tributes
This tribute was added by Oh-Sang Kwon on 1st November 2015

"Happy Birthday, Dave!"

This tribute was added by Duje Tadin on 6th October 2015

"Today’s anniversary is one reminder, among so many reminders of Dave, of our great loss. To Dave, we think of you so often and continue feel the pain of your absence. To Deb and all of Dave’s family, wishing you continued strength, comfort, and happy memories of Dave—as wonderful a person as I’ve ever known."

This tribute was added by Greg DeAngelis on 6th October 2015

"Hard to believe it has been a year now. We miss you, Dave. My best wishes to you family and friends on this difficult anniversary."

This tribute was added by Simon Grant on 27th August 2015

"I am a neuroscientist working in London UK. I met David only once and, briefly, at Intentional meeting at which he was an invited speaker and had just given an excellent talk. But we had the opportunity to chat informally about our shared interests, from which it was clear that he had all the attributes that others who knew him well have emphasized. He was a giant in the field whose contributions will endure. My condolences to his family."

This tribute was added by Paul van den Broek on 11th June 2015

"I am so very sorry to hear about Dave's passing away.and my feelings go to Debbie, the kids, and the other family members. I was a beginning faculty member at Minnesota when Dave joined as a postdoc. The memories tumble over each other: academic and political discussions, skiing on the North shore together, his (failed) attempt to teach me how to properly shoot a basketball, and working with Herb Pick on the cognitive science conference and book. His astuteness, his honesty, and his ability to become excited by just about any challenge to our understanding and behavior became engraved in my memories. His contributions to academia as well as to making this world a kinder place cannot be erased"

This tribute was added by Stéphane Rainville on 4th March 2015

"I'm terribly saddened to hear about Dave's tragic passing. I got a chance to interact with Dave while I was post-docing at CVS in Rochester between 2000-2002. I can't separate the talented scientist from the great humanist, as he was eager to teach his profound understanding of applied mathematics not only selflessly but also in a way that took active interest in the success of his pupil and the advancement of science in general. A shy demeanour, a welcoming smile, a knowing look, and a genuine humility and kindness all understated the force of his intellect. I will truly miss him."

This tribute was added by Pascal Mamassian on 1st January 2015

"Most of us know David Knill for his pioneering work on Bayesian modeling of visual perception. David was unique in being able to combine carefully crafted psychophysical experiments and serious mathematical modeling.

Regretfully, only a few of us have been lucky to interact with Dave. I will remember his generosity in spending time with us in Dan Kersten’s lab, his unpresuming thirst to get to the bottom of a problem, and of course his contagious laughter."

This tribute was added by Bosco Tjan on 24th December 2014

"Dave was a postdoc at the University of Minnesota with Dan when I was a graduate student with Gordon and Dan. His office was always in some state of disorganization (but not messy). His thought process was nothing but. Talking to Dave always brought clarity: what were the variables, what to optimize, how to test this? Then there was his characteristic laughter. Just last VSS we were chatting about how we never managed to collaborate on any project.

I received the sad news through a text message when I was at an NIH study section. One of Dave's proposals was discussed at the same study section a year or two ago when I started serving on that panel. I remembered the discussion. The shocking news put everything in perspective.  I miss Dave as a colleague and friend!"

This tribute was added by Joseph Atkins on 22nd December 2014

"Dave Knill was as much a part of my graduate experience at UR as my adviser, Robbie Jacobs. No one could have asked for or gotten better guidance through the dissertation process than they provided. What I remember most and best about Dave was his ability to look at a newly published article and after just a few minutes of going back and forth between tables, results, and findings say if it was an example of quality research and if so what it added to our current knowledge. And I quote him often for having said, "we're never going to understand the brain in our lifetimes, but we can hope to narrow that standard deviation of our error". Dave will be missed, but will continue to inspire those who knew him."

This tribute was added by Ladan Shams on 21st December 2014

"What a shock, and what a loss to our community! David was a pleasure to interact with; he was full of insight and knowledge, and at the same time extremely modest and generous. His work was solid, elegant, rigorous, and creative. His contributions will be long-lasting and he will be missed as a wonderful peer..."

This tribute was added by Amulya Bondada on 12th December 2014

"Dave was my adviser at UofR. I also had the good luck of working with an amazing scientist like him on a research paper.
He cared about his students' future. I will never forget the many times that he went out of the way to help me both inside and outside the classroom. Dave played a major role in my undergrad and made my college life a great learning experience. As a mentor, he was always so impossibly patient and calm with me whether it came to teaching, advising or consoling. He always stood by me and gave his support unconditionally. His intelligent foresight and logical manner of thinking was not restricted to cognitive science research but extended to advising on real life situations.
Dave, your kindness will never be forgotten. I miss you and will always remember you.
Forever grateful, Amulya"

This tribute was added by Bonnie Kyle-Mistichelli on 8th December 2014

"David was one of THE BEST friends I had in our final year at UVA.  I was hit hard when I read my UVA Alum magazine class notes last night. Oh, how I wish I stayed in touch. (Note to self and all, treasure your friends - and let them know! - now! )
Memorable forever:  one late night we "borrowed" some really old wheelchairs (probably left out for trash) from the hospital.  well, we rolled around and quoted the poems we knew - our favorites - and 2 were E.A.Poe.  God bless the Knill family, David's wonderfulness will shine on, and we are all blessed by his life."

This tribute was added by David Williams on 23rd November 2014

"I had the honor and the pleasure of working very closely with Dave since we first began to recruit him from Penn to Rochester until his tragic death last month.  Very soon after his arrival in Rochester, I asked him to serve as Associate Director of the Center for Visual Science, which I direct, and he graciously agreed.  Since then, hardly any significant decisions were made in CVS without consultation first with Dave. I am so very grateful for the wisdom he brought to each of these decisions.  What was so special about Dave was his ability to dissect an issue down to its essence, targeting the relevant aspects and casting aside the irrelevant. Dave was remarkably fair and generous, and his recommendations were impeccably devoid of even a hint of self-interest.  Always frank and direct, he confronted the difficult questions head on.  He also cared very deeply about his students and their careers.  It was Dave, after all, who launched a course to teach them how to write grants, an absolutely critical skill for a successful scientist, especially these days, and one that generally falls outside the usual graduate school curriculum.  
Dave was also a very close personal friend.  He and I talked a lot over the years about raising families and adventures we might organize that would create ever stronger bonds within them.  Scuba diving was one of these, and I was thrilled that Dave had encouraged his family to learn to dive, as I had sometime earlier with my family.   My son Kris and I managed to dive with Dave only once, and never with our entire respective families.  That single dive was an unforgettable experience, a story best told over a beer. I will always deeply regret that we did not find the time for more adventures of this kind together.  Dave was so warm, so smart, so thoughtful, and so full of life, it remains difficult to comprehend that he is no longer with us.  I will miss him on so many levels, always."

This tribute was added by Greg DeAngelis on 1st November 2014

"Happy 54th Birthday, Dave.  We miss you."

This tribute was added by Gordon Legge on 29th October 2014

"When Dave joined us at Minnesota as a postdoc, he brought us energy, brilliant insights, and wonderful collegiality. I remember him coming to my office to talk soon after his arrival, and flattering me with his interest in my work. Our conversation turned to geodesics, entropy, ideal observers and other interesting stuff. Talking to Dave was always a joy. Dave has been a superb contributor to vision science and a superb friend to all of us who had the privilege to know him. We will miss him deeply!"

This tribute was added by dennis levi on 26th October 2014

"Dave was a very creative scientist, a wonderful collaborator and a great friend. He will be sorely missed."

This tribute was added by Eileen Kowler on 19th October 2014

"I last talked to David at VSS, in front of his poster (with Oh-Sang Kwon and Duje Tadin), and as I remember it Dave was taking his turn, giving the co-authors a break.  We had a wonderful discussion of the work (on judgments of position and motion).  David was so enthusiastic and animated about the project and the future directions.  My heart goes out to his family and friends."

This tribute was added by Adam Bosen on 16th October 2014

"Dave was an invaluable voice on my thesis committee, and despite the short time I knew him the lessons I learned from him will stay with me for the rest of my life. It has been truly amazing to hear the stories of those whose lives he has touched, both at the funeral and on this page, and understand the vast impact he has had on countless lives.

One of my favorite memories I have of Dave was very early in grad school, when I stopped him after class to show him a figure that demonstrated a correlation I had found in my data.  I was super excited to have found something I thought was worth talking about, and just expected him to take a few minutes to say that my finding looks good.  Instead, after I explained what I was showing and how I got to it, he gently told me it was the wrong way to interpret my results.  However, I was feeling a bit precious about the figure (I mean, I had found an Interesting Result!) and wasn't willing to let go of it.  He picked up on my reservations, so his response was to ball up the figure and throw it into the wastebasket across the room.

What happened next was amazing.  Rather than assert his authority and let me figure out for myself where I went wrong, he engaged me in a conversation about how I got to the result now residing in the wastebasket.  I explained from the start what I was attempting to do, and he guided the conversation until we together found the point where I'd made my mistake.  From there, he patiently laid out the relevant theory and made sure I was getting it, never getting too ahead or impatient with the rate I was absorbing the information.  By the end of the conversation he had clearly laid out the right way to get to the goal I was pursuing and made sure I understood how to go about it.  In total, he spent about an hour and a half on a conversation he wasn't planning on, but never made any indication that I was inconveniencing him or that he didn't have the time.  All he cared about was helping me learn.

I've thought about that meeting a lot since then, and the lessons wrapped up in it.  The first was a fundamental shift in the way I viewed my work.  Research isn't about a blind scramble to find patterns, but rather an organized attempt to understand the how and why underneath what we observe. Despite being one of the fathers of applying Bayesian Inference to perception, he was always very clear in his belief that it was only a tool to help us understand the brain, and was not one to get carried away with putting theories ahead of reality. He was equally comfortable talking about theory and experimentation, which gave him deep insight into the meaning of both. The second thing I learned was from the way he treated me throughout the conversation. It could have been a defeat, and yet he turned it into progress.  In that moment and in several conversations since he has demonstrated that keeping the well-being of others as a top priority is not incompatible with being a top tier scientist.  It was amazing to hear the scope of his sincere caring for everyone he met, and encouraging to know that there is opportunity for a  family man to pursue an academic career.

Dave will forever be a role model to me.  Moving forward, I am going to do my best to use his lessons to walk a path similar to his, both professionally and personally. I believe the best way to honor him is to remember how he lived, and use the memory of his care for others as a template for how we should live."

This tribute was added by Jenny Read on 16th October 2014

"I did not know David personally, but I greatly admired him as a scientist. His book "Perception as Bayesian Inference", co-authored with Whitman Richards, is both profound and beautifully written. It made a great impression on me as a new scientist just moving into vision from physics; in fact two of my very first vision papers are basically an "homage" to David's book. I was appalled to hear of his tragically early death. This is a great loss to science even if our loss is insignificant compared to the blow suffered by his family."

This tribute was added by Wei Ji Ma on 13th October 2014

"While any premature death confronts the left-behind with the maddening frailty of life, my first response to the news of Dave’s passing was to shout why, of all people, he had to be the outlier. Dave was one the most wonderful people I have known. He was my advisor on a side project I did as a postdoc at the University of Rochester in 2007-8, on causal inference when combining peripheral visual information with memory for reaching movements. Dave generously made his time, insights, and lab resources available to this theoretical neuroscientist who wanted to get trained as a psychophysicist. In our discussions, he was always two steps ahead, but also always made sure I caught up. Dave was the kindest, gentlest mentor one could ever wish for, and had the extraordinary ability to take the pressure off of doing research. Research is stressful for many reasons, but it really helps if your advisor is not judgmental, makes you feel like an equal collaborator rather than like a minion, and prefers solid work that stands the test of time over fancy but fragile publications. Dave also had immense patience with struggling students, and treated students and postdocs with the same level of respect and engagement as professors.

After I had started a faculty job in Houston and could not finish my project, Dave was very understanding in spite of all the time he had invested in it. We kept in touch since. I found myself following Dave’s lead in many aspects of my academic life: exploiting the power of psychophysics for comparing process models of brain function, not shying away from the effort needed to “clean up” existing literature, and attempting to improve education (Dave once taught a statistics class for psychology majors entirely from Bayesian principles…). Dave was my favorite workshop invitee (on high-level vision in 2010, and on visual working memory in 2012), and my favorite suggested reviewer because of his breadth of knowledge and his fairness.

In scientific conversations, Dave’s comments were typically unassuming and unintrusive, but crystal-clear and the most valuable of all. He grasped new ideas very quickly. Back in Rochester for a talk in 2011, I told him about a new data set that we had collected, and with a single question (did you try an ISI of zero?), he revealed its flaws. During my talk, he correctly guessed the details of the categorization task we had used, because he had used a similar task 16 years earlier; amazingly, there was no trace of annoyance at my ignorance.

Unlike many scientists, Dave cared about the real world. Over dinner during the working memory workshop in Portland in 2012, we got to talk about the real-world applicability of our type of research, and Dave argued that a model-based understanding of working memory might lead to better diagnostic tests of concussion/traumatic brain injury. It was not only clear that he had far more than superficial knowledge of the practical need for such improved diagnosis in competitive sports (much more than say the average NIH grant applicant has about the disease they claim their research will help cure), but also that he cared deeply about the athletes’ fates.

I spoke with Dave most recently at the Vision Sciences Society meeting in May 2014, where he spontaneously sat down for an hour with my student Edgar Walker and me to give feedback on the talk on the aperture problem that Edgar was going to give the next day. He had no stake in the project at all.

One more memory I have of Dave is not science-related. One day when I was sitting on the sidelines in the U of R gym waiting for a badminton court to open up, I happened to see Dave play basketball with his sons on the neighboring, otherwise empty court. It was a beautiful image of family bonds.

Dave, I will miss you a lot."

This tribute was added by Amanda Yung on 12th October 2014

"It was great working for Dave in his lab as a programmer for the past four years. He was supportive in my work when I hit roadblocks, and he could easily explain complex concepts in such a natural way when he scribbled diagrams or equations on the whiteboard. After hours of programming in a freezing air-conditioned room, it was reassuring to step out to the lab conference room and see Dave there, always with a 7-Eleven Big Gulp or Coke can nearby, to happily answer yet another one of my questions. And he'd sometimes take me by surprise as well with an out-of-the-blue email of thanks for getting something done, even though it was just an everyday part of my job.

Dave also taught me the importance of work-life balance, which initially clashed with my workaholic tendencies. On my first day at work, not even an hour into my first project, he came by to tell me to take it easy and spend time settling into the department and Rochester; having a life outside of work was just as important. He also worried for me when I started my masters program part-time with an ambitious courseload and wanted to check that I still had time for myself even after work hours and class hours. Not to mention, it was always easy to strike up a conversation with him about non-work related topics, even during work meetings.

Although I only knew Dave mainly within the confines of Meliora Hall, I could tell he followed his own advice, from the many times he'd be out spending time with his family, or instances like the department canoe trip where he'd eagerly play ultimate frisbee alongside undergrad and grad students. (One time, he had forgotten his frisbee and drove half an hour just to get it and come back.) Dave had an infectious joy of life that I'll sorely miss, but I hope I and others who knew him can keep that life-loving spirit going strong."

This tribute was added by Kathy Nordeen on 12th October 2014

"Thoughtful, smart, other-centric, sincere – these are the words that come to mind when I think of Dave.  Although we didn’t have any research collaborations, I worked with Dave on many committees and we had numerous conversations about education, politics, family, and travel.  One characteristic that stands out is that Dave was an exceptional listener.  No matter what priors he might have on a topic, he would really hear and evaluate different points of view and was comfortable expressing a change of position if new information was persuasive.  Outside of meetings, our conversations often turned towards family (our kids are about 10 years older than Ari and Josh):  there was never any doubt that this was where Dave’s heart was anchored.  During those years of angst that most of us travel, when kids resent much of what their parents do and parents are wrestling with whether they should do more or less to keep their kids safe, Dave particularly enjoyed hearing about some of the crazy experiences we encountered and how we and our kids coped with those events. When I asked just a few weeks ago how Josh and Ari were doing, the emotion that came over Dave was especially heartwarming.  The light in his eyes and smile that came over his face left no doubt that his sons had grown into young adults that earned his utmost pride and respect.  Given the person Dave was, I know that he set a high bar for his kids, and I’m confident that Dave’s essence will live on through them.  I’ll miss sharing time with Dave; I feel lucky to have known him."

This tribute was added by Vikranth Bejjanki on 11th October 2014

"Dave was a wonderful teacher, collaborator and friend to me, both when I was a graduate student at the University of Rochester, and in the years since. While he wasn’t my primary advisor, I was fortunate to work closely with him for a number of years. He was always generous with his time, advice, knowledge and encouragement, and so much of my training and interests can be traced directly back to him. More than anything else, he inspired me to be a better teacher, a better scientist and a better mentor and his example will continue to guide me in the years to come.

Dave had an incredible passion for discovery - he insisted that the point of research wasn’t just to publish papers, it was to learn something new. He would get so excited about every new idea that we would discuss, and he would be impatient to find out what the next analysis might show. He also brought a love of rigor to his science, “good enough” wasn’t ever good enough for him - he wanted to run one more experiment, one more analysis and one more test to really make sure that we understood the underlying process. Dave was also a wonderful example of how one might balance work and fun. While he derived great joy from research, he truly enjoyed so many more things - his family, running, skiing, scuba diving, Belgian beer, New Orleans, and the list goes on.  

I will miss Dave very much. I will miss his steadfast encouragement, wise counsel and his impeccable moral compass. I will miss being able to get his advice on whatever project I am working on, I will miss writing papers with him and most of all, I will miss talking to him."

This tribute was added by David Brainard on 11th October 2014

"I didn't know Dave super-well, but we work on similar questions and I always looked forward to chatting with him at conferences, when he visited Penn, or when I visited Rochester.  He was deep in his thinking and generous with his insights, and his ideas were helpful to me in my own research. He developed a beautiful demonstration that illustrates how perceived 3D shape can interact with perceived surface lightness, and I often take advantage of this when I teach.  I will miss him."

This tribute was added by Frank Garcea on 11th October 2014

"Dave was a professor of mine in the brain & cognitive sciences department. He was such a kind man. I'll never forget the many interactions we had in class and out of class; we would often chat about visual processing, FC Barcelona/soccer, and a myriad of other things. He was a brilliant man, and simply put, a nice, compassionate person. Dave's passing is so sad, but he will be remembered as an amazing person who touched the lives of so many people around him."

This tribute was added by Santiago Alonso-Diaz on 11th October 2014

"I meet Dave as a professor and director of the graduate program. He was a wonderful person. I will always remember a meeting with him. I was struggling with a research paper so I asked him for a meeting because of his expertise. The day of the meeting I mixed the hours and ended up arriving late and he was not in his office. To my surprise, even though it was my mistake, I received an email from him to reschedule. The meeting ended up being an incredible intelectual interaction, one that will leave a lasting impression on me. He is a great loss and my warm considerations to the family and friends."

This tribute was added by Bill Geisler on 10th October 2014

"I am greatly saddened to loose Dave as a friend and colleague.  He was a major contributor to experiment and theory in vision science.  I am grateful not only for is contributions to the field, but for the specific feedback he provided to me about my own efforts.  Dave was easy and fun to talk to about all topics.  It was just a six weeks ago or so that we had a couple of long discussions about science and other things.  He seemed as strong and healthy as ever, with that usual gleam in his eye.  I will miss him."

This tribute was added by Sarah Creel on 10th October 2014

"Whenever I think of my graduate years at Rochester BCS, Dave is one of the people who particularly stands out. He was that combination of brilliance, humility, and kindness that makes for the best scientists and the best mentors. My heartfelt condolences to Dave's family and Rochester colleagues."

This tribute was added by Ruben Coen-Cagli on 10th October 2014

"I have met Dave very briefly, few hours only. Yet, he made a fantastic impression on me and I feel so saddened at his passing. Just one short scientific conversation with him was enough to generate several ideas for exciting new experiments, and his genuine enthusiasm for science was absolutely contagious. That spark in his eyes, only very few have it.

We talked briefly about basketball, another passion we shared, and I can't forget his smile when he told me about 'the lunch-bunch' games. I wish we could have played one or two.

My deepest condolences to Dave's family, and to his many friends and colleagues."

This tribute was added by Suliann Ben Hamed on 10th October 2014

"I spent two years at the University of Rochester as a post-doc at the Brain and Cognitive Sciences department. I have a vivid memory of the contributions of David Knill to the weekly seminars, with sharp deep incisive questions, bringing us all at the closest of the scientifique question, but always offered with the utmost humility and genuine enthousiasme. This memory of him is and will continue to be inspiring."

This tribute was added by Bradford Mahon on 10th October 2014

"Dave's passion for the projects and ideas that he was excited about was inspiring. He would become so animated and joyful when talking about something important. It made me want to be a part of whatever he was talking about. I will miss that."

This tribute was added by Ernie Nordeen on 10th October 2014

"Dave was a great colleague and a just a really good guy.  His life was balanced, and it was clear how much he valued his family. Working with him was a pleasure. He listened, was completely unselfish, and was extremely insightful in a gentle, cooperative way.  I will miss him in the department and I will always regret having not spent enough time with him as a friend."

This tribute was added by Alex Fine on 10th October 2014

"I knew Dave when I was a grad student in BCS.  I attended his seminars and TA-ed for him for a semester.  What stuck with me most about Dave was his completely uncanny ability to explain tough concepts with clarity, precision, and profoundly earnest excitement and curiosity.  He was equally in his element explaining the t-distribution to undergrads, sparse coding to grad students, and catching fly-balls (using basic principles of depth and motion perception, of course) to his son's baseball team. He simply had a gift and a passion for teaching.

As much as that, though, I'll remember the warm, casual, but stimulating chats I had with Dave over the years about running, riding bikes, dogs, music, being from the south, having a beard, and a hundred other things.  I know I'm only one of hundreds of students and colleagues whose days were made a little easier and a little brighter by Dave."

This tribute was added by Indu Vedamurthy on 9th October 2014

"I am privileged to have known Dave. He was my post-doctoral mentor at the University of Rochester. From the day I met Dave, I recognized that he valued people above everything else. He was a brilliant scientist and extremely rigorous in his approach to solving problems. Dave’s intuition, attention to detail, patience (during the times when everything that could go wrong, did), his never-give-up attitude, and above all, his human touch were truly inspirational. I fondly remember the days when we were working on setting up a virtual bug-squashing task. His enthusiasm rubbed off on everyone around him. He would often narrate an incident or a funny story and somehow link it with a solution to a problem with the experiment I was working on. Perhaps this was Dave’s way of teaching a clinical researcher about the Bayesian approach and concepts.
I once considered leaving my research midway through my training for personal reasons; Dave quickly offered support and asked me to focus on the things that were important to me instead of worrying about the project. I will always remember Dave for his generosity, scientific excellence, and the deep concern he had for people around him."

This tribute was added by Dick Aslin on 9th October 2014

"Dave's impact on the department and the field was enormous, but personally two things stand out.  One was professional -- Dave embodied the uniqueness of our department culture which encourages multidisciplinarity.  One of our grad students in language took Dave's seminar in vision and crafted a dissertation on speech perception that created a new way of thinking about how we understand spoken language.  For a diehard vision guy, Dave got turned on to auditory perception and speech, so much so that he continued to work with another grad student on audio-visual speech perception.  His mathematical rigor set the standard for these two dissertations.

My other memory of Dave centers on the annual CVS ski trip, which for several years was held at Debbie's parents' country house near Gore Mt.  Everyone was welcome in an atmosphere of good science, good food, and good cheer.  One year it was -10F and even colder with the wind chill, but the heat in the house was blazing and we all put in a turn cooking pancakes and bacon for 40 people.  Dave was intense and occasionally absent-minded as a scientist, but gentle and welcoming as a person; he really cared about people regardless of rank.  We need more people like Dave in the world, and I am so thankful that our paths crossed nearly daily for the past 15 years."

This tribute was added by Krystel Huxlin on 9th October 2014

"Dave and I were colleagues and collaborators at the University of Rochester.  In practice, when I think of our work together (collaborating on projects, co-advising graduate students, sitting on the CVS executive committee), I automatically see them as an expression of science and friendship, rather than “work”.  In the last few days since his death, I have tried to understand why Dave made these interactions so different.  The answer - for me at least - came down to Dave’s humanistic take on life. His scientific brilliance, rigor and ethics were balanced by a deceptively accurate grasp of, unfailing respect and warmth for the individuals who surrounded him. In this, and in so many other ways, he will be sorely missed. His scientific and personal legacy will live on. We will never forget you, Dave. Safe travels."

This tribute was added by Robert Jacobs on 9th October 2014

"I feel so lucky to have known Dave. He was a great personal friend, a close research collaborator, and a department faculty colleague. I learned so much from Dave along so many different dimensions. Dave taught me about Belgian beers. He also taught me about visual perception, such as what little I know about vision motion, stereo, and texture. And Dave had really elegant ways of explaining hierarchical Bayesian models.

I loved walking by Dave's office. If it was late in the afternoon, there might have been music streaming from his office into the hallways (Bob Marley, the Who, etc.). Or I would see him standing with a student at his whiteboard, waving his arms in excitement as he explained some idea. Sometimes Dave would see me walk by and call for me to come into his office -- he had just created a new visual stimulus that he wanted me to look at. To geeks like us, this was great fun.

Dave was perhaps the most rigorous scientist that I ever worked with. He always emphasized that research topics and experiments had to address naturalistic behaviors and environments. That's an important lesson. He knew how to simplify an experimental task -- so that it could be performed in a laboratory in a controlled fashion -- but he also knew that you don't want to make it too simple because you run the danger of losing its naturalistic aspects. I hope that I always remember that lesson. Another lesson is to avoid short-cuts that may make scientific analyses easier but end up compromising the results. Dave would go to extraordinary lengths to analyze his data in many different ways before settling on the technique or techniques that were most revealing (even if using those techniques was burdensome and time-consuming). I also hope that I always remember that lesson too.

And Dave was a really good friend. It's unusual to find someone who is so intense scientifically, yet is so gentle and relaxed personally. Being with Dave was easy. He made you feel warm and welcome. I enjoyed laughing with him while he would tell stories about his childhood in New Orleans or watching him beam with pride while talking about his kids. I'll miss him very, very much."

This tribute was added by Leslie Lynch on 9th October 2014

"I first met Dave as a senior BCS major in his stats class, and began working in his lab part-time as an RA that year. After graduating he offered me a full time position, which I happily accepted. I was a technician in Dave's lab for over 5 years, and during that time got to know him well. He was a brilliant researcher, and I remember many lab meetings where the white board would be filled corner to corner with formulas and equations for the next project. But my fondest memories are of the weekly "Lab Lunches." He would often have his minivan and we would cram every seat full of people and head out to eat. Those lunches were filled with funny conversations on anything from chess and checkers, to beer, to soccer, and everything in between. He was a great person to work for, and a great mentor, and I am so thankful I was able to work in his lab."

This tribute was added by Michael Landy on 9th October 2014

"I've known Dave and his work for such a long time that I barely remember when we first met. His research areas were very close to my own. Yet, I never ever thought of us as competitive but, rather, as collaborating on a research enterprise even though we never directly collaborated as such (other than one co-authored chapter). He was always someone who held the intellectual bar very high and yet would make his comments and suggestions in such a way as to make you feel good about your own work while, at the same time, helping you to improve it. I can't believe he's gone, and I miss him already."

This tribute was added by Laurie Wilcox on 9th October 2014

"Like so many people who have written their thoughts here, I valued my friendship with Dave deeply. We've been friends for 20 yrs, and I always looked forward to seeing him at meetings. Our conversations were so wide ranging but often started with his family and how the boys were doing. I often held him up as an example to students to illustrate how creative, rigorous science is done by a thoughtful generous, warm person. I will miss him, his big hugs, how he loved to laugh, and how he cared about people and ideas. My heart and thoughts go to Debbie, Ari and Josh."

This tribute was added by Jim Miller on 9th October 2014

"I knew Dave as a neighbor and friend.  We raised out kids together on a great block in Brighton, where a pack of kids, including Dave's and mine, could run around together playing street games and end up and be welcome at any one or 4-5 houses on the block.  Dave was one of those rare individuals where every time I encountered him, whether it revolved organizing some activity with the kids or enjoying a drink together, I always left the encounter feeling better.  Dave brought a child-like enthusiasm to life that was simply infectious.  It was hard not to smile more and appreciate life more around Dave.
One story that comes to mind is one summer we helped each other build tree houses in our yards.  Neither of us had a good tree to build it in, so we essentially built a house on stilts.  We rented an auger to drill holes for the post.  We finished in Dave's yard and got to the last post in my yard, when the auger got stuck on a root and it started to rain.  The clay that we had dug up around the hole got slick and the two of us were fighting this stuck auger and slipping and sliding on the slick clay. It was pretty hysterical.  Dave had to eventually move his tree house, but that is another story.
I will miss Dave.  I am honored to have know him and will treasure all my memories that we shared, watching our kids grow up, and I am sad that I will not have the opportunity to create any new ones with him."

This tribute was added by Steve Piantadosi on 9th October 2014

"Dave was an incredible colleague. My last substantial interaction with him was typified the honesty and clarity he, literally, brought to life. He wanted to talk about an honor court case, discussing the moral and statistical implications of different choices of priors and likelihoods and how a good Bayesian should decide cases of academic cheating. It was a wonderful to see him deploy his technical expertise in a moral domain so close to his heart. I will remember his unflinching precision in reasoning throughout all searches for truth. He leaves a legacy in my mind of dedication to honesty and care in all things."

This tribute was added by Ben Backus on 9th October 2014

"When I start a project or write a paper, I ask myself--literally--what Dave will think of it. I've done this for many years. I know I'm not alone in doing this. We will keep doing this of course, and it's one of the ways Dave will live on. I will dearly miss his friendship too."

This tribute was added by Michael Scott on 9th October 2014

"For many years Dave has had a secondary appointment in Computer Science.  While I didn't have a chance to collaborate with him personally, his presence was a valued addition to the department.  My heart goes out to his family and friends, and especially to his wife, Deb, whose amazing work with the Writing Center has done so much to enrich the University."

This tribute was added by Michael Shadlen on 9th October 2014

"I knew Dave from Brown days back in the late 1980s and we have kept in touch through meetings and shared interests ever since. Our conversations ranged from soccer to science to family, politics, recovery from various aches and pains. Besides his brilliance, I knew Dave as a sweet, kind, authentic person. His brilliance, creativity and integrity shone through, although he appeared almost ego-less. In fact the only times I can remember Dave bragging is when discussion turned to soccer. I can't resist one science memory. I credit Dave with the suggestion that the phenomena that fall under the rubric of "change blindness" would be more aptly explained by "change distraction". It's a tiny fragment of the wisdom he uncovered and shared, but it's a memory I cherish. My heartfelt condolences to Dave's family and the large community of scientists and friends that loved this great man."

This tribute was added by Celeste Kidd on 9th October 2014

"Dave was a mentor to me as a graduate student, and I TA'ed statistics for him for two years. He was an incredibly dedicated and talented educator, and embued all of his students with his own zeal for scientific skepticism in a way that inspired me to want to do the same. Dave was also a mentor to me as a senior faculty member in Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and, in both roles, offered me incredibly thoughtful tips and advice in moments where he observed that I could use them. Midway through my grad school career, during a meeting in which I dropped my pen and cellphone repeatedly due to sleep deprivation, he casually mentioned a cool paper he'd read on the long-term consequences of sleep deprivation on cognitive function and memory, and offered to print me a copy if I wanted (which I did). It was really considerate and kind, which is how he was always. Dave was also the only other person in my department who was from New Orleans, and who reliably wished me Happy Mardi Gras each year. He made the department feel like a home for me, and for that, I will always be greatful. He will be fondly remembered and deeply missed."

This tribute was added by Alice O'Toole on 8th October 2014

"It is difficult to know what to say. I have known him since our days in grad school together in the 80''s. Echoing everything else here, David was unique--kind and gentle, empathic and mentoring, all against a background of a fierce intelligence and insight-- all understated and modest. I will always remember his infectious smile and laugh, his fun-loving nature, and his pure love of science - I will miss him and remember him in the small (but important) moments of science."

This tribute was added by Dora Angelaki on 8th October 2014

"I never had the pleasure to be Dave's colleague, although it came close. But he has been one of my heroes who taught me how great science visual psychophysicist can do, particularly because I came from another universe where the world looked different. In addition to his science, he impressed me with his honesty, high standards and, as others testify, his sharp intellect.
His family and close friends will miss Dave, but science will miss him too – nearly as much if not more."

This tribute was added by Dario Ringach on 8th October 2014

"I had the honor of being one of Dave’s colleagues. We participated in many study sections together where his fairness, integrity and scientific knowledge were always in display.  He will be missed.  My condolences to the family and the entire vision research community."

This tribute was added by Oh-Sang Kwon on 8th October 2014

"Dave was my postdoctoral mentor. He was brilliant yet strict in research, but generous in personal issues.

It was always interesting to have a meeting with him. He could see through the core of my vague ideas, which I might have delved for weeks, usually before my full description finished, and soon came up with several better ones in mathematically organized form. I adored his ability. He encouraged me to explore principles governing phenomena rather than listing eye-catching effects, while urging every bit of research to be crystal clear.

I have a memory of him that moved my heart, too. Because of my Visa status, it once became temporally illegal for me to be an employee of University. I had to stay at home and could not work for several weeks. I felt responsible for this incident, since it was partly due to my carelessness. Then, Dave called me at home. He didn’t talk about the progress of research or what went wrong. He worried about my health insurance, which became invalid for those weeks. He told me not to hesitate to see a doctor when my family or I need to do so. He said, “I will take care of the cost.” Although we didn’t need to see a doctor, it was a heartwarming offer.

I am greatly indebted to him in many aspects."

This tribute was added by jessica cantlon on 8th October 2014

"Dave was a great role model -- to me he was an example of someone who figured out the important things in life."

This tribute was added by Randolph Blake on 8th October 2014

"We have lost an inspiring, creative scientist/scholar and a truly fine person. I will miss you, Dave, and I'll do my part to see that future students of vision understand the enormous impact your contributions have had on our field."

This tribute was added by Aaron Seitz on 8th October 2014

"I truly valued Dave as a colleague. All of our interactions were vibrant, exciting, and informative. Likewise his research was valuable and field leading. I'm shocked by his passing but he will be remembered fondly as a person and his research contributions will be lasting."

This tribute was added by HyungGoo Kim on 8th October 2014

"Dave was one of a few people who surprised me at the talks all the time. When I was the 1st and 2nd year graduate student, of course, I struggled with understanding the very basic concepts and results. Then there was Dave Knill, who always came up with brilliant questions, and often with ideas that the presenter had never thought of. His thought was novel, but always contains his own flavor of 'computation', which intellectually stimulated me all the time. With all of his intellectual power, he was gentle and nice. He will be remembered and missed a lot."

This tribute was added by James Elder on 8th October 2014

"Over the twenty years I knew him Dave became both an inspiration and a friend to me.  He has had a profound influence on vision science, particularly when it comes to building and testing rigorous models for perception and action.  The breadth of his expertise in mathematics, statistics and psychophysics were important here, but equally important was his clear-minded passion for identifying core issues at the heart of complex phenomena.

Dave was equally inspiring as a friend and colleague who freely contributed his grace and fellowship to our community, making it a warmer place to be.  He had broad interests and an open heart, and I will miss most of all his generous laugh and delight in interesting conversation."

This tribute was added by Long Ding on 8th October 2014

"David's work speaks for his brilliance and impact on science. I will remember David as the person who first introduced to me the concept of "gestalt" and the person who, after receiving excellent service, was aware of and concerned about how patients with lower socioeconomic status than himself were treated at hospitals."

This tribute was added by Kaccie Li on 8th October 2014

"I do not know Dave well as I was just another undergraduate student at the time. I worked in a lab right next to his and only interacted with him briefly when we crossed paths in the hallway. There was this one memory of him that stuck with me for the last decade, and I just wanted to share that here. I remember going to finalize my class schedule for the start of spring 2005 at (I believe) Lattimore hall, and he walked in the door and got in line behind me. When I was done and on my way out, I heard him say to the lady behind the desk that he was there to change a grade for a student from a B+ to an A- for a class last fall. I guess I didn't think much of it at that moment, but I learned to appreciate it over the years. It just showed how much he cared about his students."

This tribute was added by Michael Tarr on 8th October 2014

"David was a wonderful person and one of the most careful, smartest scientists I ever met. He was incredibly thoughtful and rigorous. I always will think of him as a trailblazer in applying sophisticated mathematical approaches to perception and action. He helped change the way we study vision today. I will miss him and our interactions over the years."

This tribute was added by Greg DeAngelis on 8th October 2014

"I had the privilege to be Dave’s colleague and friend, as well as (more recently) his department chair.  In all of these contexts, Dave’s passion and integrity showed through in everything he did.  I want to share a few of the ways in which I will always remember him.

First, Dave had such love and passion for his family.  He was so proud of his sons, Ari and Josh, and he always had a big smile when talking about them. I enjoyed hearing his stories about baseball games and bowling tournaments and many of the other great things that his sons did. As accomplished as Dave was as a scientist, he always put family first, and I will always admire him for that.

As a scientist, Dave was truly brilliant.  He had a remarkable ability to see the core issues in a scientific question, and he was incredibly successful at developing simple theories and models that could account for a vast array of observations.  Dave’s work always gave us new insight into a problem.  On top of his accomplishments themselves, I will always remember Dave’s approach to science.  For him, it was never about his own accolades (which were richly deserved), but about finding the truth and doing science the right way. He always wanted to know the truth. His integrity, transparency, and collegiality were a model for all young scientists to emulate.

Dave was also a wonderful contributor to the department and the University, as well as the profession.  He was passionate about educating students, and made great contributions to the BCS graduate program, as well as the Center for Visual Science.  Dave always put an emphasis on doing things that would help students to learn and grow.  He was also a great instigator of social interactions in BCS and CVS.

Dave’s time with us was far too short, but his impact and legacy will be disproportionately large for all of us who benefitted to know him.  We miss you, Dave."

This tribute was added by Duje Tadin on 8th October 2014

"Dave was a friend, colleague and a mentor, and he inspired me in each of those roles. I will miss his inquisitive and relaxed approach to science, as well as a countless number of attributes that made Dave Dave, like his love of soccer, his hometown, and Belgian beer. Mostly, I will miss the privilege of working with him and will remember him fondly as a great collaborator and man. I admired his excellence in the field, but also the way in which he spoke constantly and lovingly of his wife and sons. Science was his intellectual focus, and he excelled in his career, yet his family was his greatest passion.  

Of course, I knew of Dave before I arrived to Rochester, and that he was an exceptional scientist whose impact helped shape modern vision research. Working with him closely only further confirmed that perception. What I did not realize about Dave before getting to know him was how deeply he cared about students--not just his own, but all students in our department. A recurring theme of our discussions was how our projects would benefit students and their future careers. He always had students’ best interest in mind and they viewed Dave rightly as their most dedicated and strongest advocate. Dave’s scientific legacy will live on not just through his own discoveries but also through the many scholars whose lives he shaped and touched.  

Speaking for myself, I can say Dave’s example, will serve as marker for the kind of achievement to which I aspire. He made his mark on the scientific world all the while never forgetting or neglecting that which really matters most in life. We need more Dave Knill’s in the world and a void will be left for all of us where he once was."

This tribute was added by Chris Sims on 8th October 2014

"Dave Knill was my post-doctoral mentor for four years at the University of Rochester. He was a friend, but it's probably more accurate to say that I was in awe of him. Here is a small sample of the qualities I saw in Dave at our every meeting: His ability to immediately see through to the absolute heart of a scientific question, his insistence on tackling hard and meaningful problems rather than "low hanging fruit", his dedication to understanding the brain as it functions in the world rather than in the laboratory, and his uncanny ability to design a simple experiment that would break new ground in a field regardless of the outcome. I try and emulate these qualities, but when I'm at my very best I'm a pale shadow of the scientist that he was. Dave's passing is simply a tremendous and irreplaceable loss to cognitive science.

My fondest memories with Dave were during Friday "lab lunch" meetings. His entire lab would pile into his minivan, and we would go somewhere to get lunch and talk about anything (though soccer and the latest bowling tournament with his son were frequent topics). He took a genuine and personal interest in everyone who was working in his lab. At one of these lunches, I mentioned that I had taken up running. Dave told me how he was once training for a marathon, in the middle of winter. Because of the weather the only way he could train was on an indoor track, so the week before his race he spent about 4 hours running in a circle for something like 200 laps. Dave's life was full of spirit and dedication. Dave was a great scientist, and a great mentor, and a great friend."

This tribute was added by Andrea Sant on 7th October 2014

"Dave was a neighbor on our street in Brighton-we raised our boys together- and a colleague at the University of Rochester. I feel so shocked and saddened at his passing. I have two kinds of memories of Dave--one with his gentle smile as he is conversing about something of shared interest and second, him throwing baseballs to his son on the Brighton baseball fields to help them practice, when they were just little guys. A wonderful friend, neighbor, father and husband. He will be greatly missed by so many people."

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This memorial is administered by:

Greg DeAngelis
University of Rochester BCS

Kindly sponsored by:
Greg DeAngelis


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