- 42 years old
- Date of birth: Dec 29, 1968
- Place of birth:
Hu Bei Province, China
- Date of passing: Dec 12, 2011
This website was created in memory of our colleague and friend, Weidong Li . We encourage you to post your tributes, stories, photos and videos here.
We are continuing to collect donations for his family. We have arranged a PayPal account for those of you who would like to donate with a credit card online. The direct link to make a PayPal donation to the Li family is
If you would prefer to make a donation by check, it should be made out directly to Weidong's wife, "Ling Yang". Send it to Barbara Hoversten in the Astronomy Department who will deliver it to her. (Address: University of California, Berkeley, Astronomy Department, B20 Hearst Field Annex MC 3411, Berkeley, CA 94720-3411). If you would like to speak with Barbara about making a donation, you may reach her at 510-642-8678.
Your generosity towards the Li family is greatly appreciated!
By Alex Filippenko
Dr. Weidong Li, an Associate Research Astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, died tragically in Benicia, CA, on December 12, 2011. He was 42 years old, and a world-renowned expert on supernovae.
Weidong was born in 1968 in the mountainous Western River Village, Dongxin district, Dawu county, Hubei province, China – the son of Chuangang and Cuifang Li, who were farmers. His true date of birth is unknown, but he determined it to be around December 29 and that is the date he celebrated, although official documents list it as December 10. As a child he was interested in all kinds of scientific findings, and he decided to devote his life to science when he grew up. A great step toward accomplishing this goal came in 1986, when he became a student in the Department of Astronomy at the Beijing Normal University. He was the first person from Dongxin to attend college, and after his later success he became a real hero there.
He studied very hard as an undergraduate and was the top student in his graduating class of 1990. Thereafter, he remained at Beijing Normal University, conducting supernova (SN) research under the direction of Professor Zongwei Li; he obtained his Masters degree in 1992 and his doctorate in 1995. As a postdoctoral scholar at the Beijing Astronomical Observatory (BAO), under the direction of Professor Jingyao Hu, his main task was to establish the first systematic SN search in China using a 0.6-meter reflecting telescope at Xinglong Station. He participated in modifying the hardware and wrote much of the software, making the search nearly fully automated, and it became operational in early 1996. The BAO SN search, led by Weidong, discovered SN 1996W on April 10 – the first SN discovered by Chinese astronomers since the Crab SN of 1054 AD! Later that year, his group discovered five additional supernovae, and all but one was found before maximum brightness.
In 1996, my research team at UC Berkeley completed the Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope (KAIT), a 0.76-meter robotic reflector at Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton, CA, whose purpose was to discover and monitor supernovae. Dr. Richard Treffers (my chief engineer) made most of the hardware work correctly, and Michael Richmond (my graduate student) had written much of the software several years earlier. We found SN 1997bs in April 1997, but progress on our Lick Observatory Supernova Search (LOSS) was very slow because there wasn’t anyone dedicated full time to the project.
At my invitation, Weidong joined my group as a postdoctoral researcher in September 1997. After spending a few months improving the software, in March 1998 he found SN 1998W and SN 1998Y, and then LOSS really got going: it became, for about a decade, by far the world's most successful nearby SN search, responsible for about 40% of those found each year. In total, it discovered almost 900 supernovae, many of which were quite young and thus scientifically most valuable. It also conducted filtered follow-up observations of hundreds of supernovae. Moreover, Weidong programmed KAIT to automatically respond to gamma-ray burst (GRB) alerts from Swift and other satellites, interrupting what it doing in order to obtain a set of follow-up observations of the optical afterglow. All of this was due to his incredible dedication, knowledge, ability, and enthusiasm. I have rarely met anyone as driven and passionate about their work; whenever there were problems with KAIT, for example, he would drive up to Lick Observatory and try to fix them, sometimes spending several days on the mountain with little sleep. If a really time-critical and exciting event came up, he would stay up late at home, making sure KAIT obtained excellent data. He was much admired for all that he did.
Weidong became my right-hand man, leading LOSS and also collaborating with me on a very large number of publications. (He published a total of about 180 refereed papers before his death, most of them coauthored with me.) I trusted him completely with everything KAIT did, and gave him nearly full authority in running LOSS. He also played a large role (and in many cases the leading role) in mentoring many dozens of undergraduate students who checked the KAIT supernova candidates each day, as well as some graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in my group. Weidong and I were very proud that he played such a major part in developing the careers of so many young new scholars.
In addition to running the wildly successful LOSS, as well as the KAIT SN and GRB follow-up programs, Weidong’s primary scientific contributions were as follows. (1) He helped determine the rate at which different types of supernovae occur in various kinds of galaxies, being the main advisor to Jesse Leaman whose doctoral thesis was this project. In particular, Weidong found that the rate per unit stellar mass of both core-collapse and (more surprisingly) thermonuclear supernovae is higher in low-mass galaxies than in massive galaxies. (2) He examined the location of specific supernovae in high-resolution pre-explosion images (such as those obtained with the Hubble Space Telescope) to possibly identify the progenitor star and measure its properties. (3) He determined the relative fractions of different subtypes of SN Ia, and he identified and carefully studied several new varieties of very peculiar supernovae such as SN 2000cx and SN 2002cx, providing new insights into stellar explosions. (4) In his last main work, published in Nature and widely publicized the week of his death, he led the team that set important constraints on the progenitor of the bright, nearby Type Ia SN 2011fe.
Weidong was a highly skilled astronomer, but also a very warm, generous, cheerful person who wanted to enrich the lives of others and make them happy. He had amazing spirit and was tremendously excited about his research. An excellent table tennis player, he enjoyed playing with friends and academic colleagues. He was also a devoted husband to his wife Ling Yang, and a loving father to his 12-year-old daughter Stella Li. He is survived by a younger brother, Yongxin Li of Dongxin, and a younger sister, Fenglian Li of Beijing. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.
"Weidong's Birthday is a time to remember him and to realize what a large empty space he has left in our lives. Knowing him was a gift in my life which I will never forget. I still miss him. Despite my sadness, I am privileged to call him my friend."
"Dearest Weidong, how truly sad to hear of your untimely passing from this dimension on to another. You tirelessly shared your enthusiasm and knowledge of the stars with both your professional colleagues and amateur friends alike. Rest peacefully, my good friend."
"Seating in the Berkeley remote control room and seeing your picture on the Haiku notebook, I realize how we are all missing you, your smile, your kindness and your presence. Rest in Peace."
"It is so sad that you had to go so early, Weidong. Although we never met (I only did some work on LOTOSS, of which you were a key member), it is obvious that you were a very special person, full of enthusiasm and always helping others learn and give their own contributions to science. Rest in peace, knowing that many people will always remember you and be grateful they once met you."
"It was sad to hear the news about Weidong. His passing is a great loss to the supernova family, both amateur and professional."
"Dear Weidong, I will always value the kind way in which you offered help and assistance to us amateurs, you even took the time to confirm one of my discoveries . Your advice was always freely given and will be treasured always. R.I.P. dear Weidong."
"Weidong you were always helpful to me and other amateur SNe patrollers in the UK. You were a gem of encouragement and motivation. You will be sorely missed by us. You were always quick to offer advice and assistance. It is such a shock to hear that you are no longer with us. I will think of you every time I have a SN candidate."
"I can't find the words to express how deeply you will be missed, Weidong. I cherished our collaboration, and so admired your dedication and wonderful humor. The Universe which we explored together is now an emptier place, one more star lost, but by your work and in our hearts, your brilliant light will always illuminate us."
"Weidong taught me much of what I know about CCD photometry, and I am indebted for his help. We worked together on several projects, in particular a paper on a KAIT GRB which he and I co-authored. We had both done a great deal of work, but he graciously stepped aside to allow me to be first-author. He was always a positive presence at Alex's meetings and around the astronomy department."
I have been looking forward to meet you at Beijing this summer. I will surely remember you in the GA. 一路走好。"
"I am in debt with you for the work you have done with supernova search. Rest in peace Weidong."
"Candle lit by Alma Menn on 10 of January 2021
I morn the loss of my dear friend, Weidong. I met Weidong and Ling soon after they arrived in Berkeley. My sister, Marilynn, helped them improved their English. I have shared many happy days with Weidong, Ling and Stella. I do miss Weidong. May you rest in peace among the stars."
"Dear Weidong, I am still in shock and can't believe you have left us. If such things can be known, I would like to think that you are now reunited with your Chinese mother, and your American mother (and my mother) Marilynn. All my love to you wherever you have gone, dear Weidong. I will miss you."
"當我同事告訴我您去逝的消息時候, 我驚訝的說不出話來, 還記得幾年前才聽過您的超新星的演講, 鼓舞了許多年輕人從事這方面的研究, 而如今, 您已經離開我們到天堂去了, 希望您這一路上好走。"
"I took a few spectra of SNe for Alex at Lick, resulting in 3 papers but the most cited one- Li et al. 2001- has 121 citations and my name appears right next to Adam Riess, who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 2011-something I can show to my kids. Thank you, Weidong, for including me; it means so much. Sad not to have met you."
我觉得很心痛当我看到你和你那么漂亮的女儿合影。我想你一定舍不得离开她。 我希望你到了天堂那边不用黑白颠倒看星星。 所有的星星任何时侯你都一览无余，欣赏灿烂的宇宙，不再辛苦，只有欢乐。我们大学毕业照让我再次回想起你的音容笑貌，R.I.P. my dear and excellent friend!"
Many thanks for your contribution to Astronomy and Astrophysics."
"Thanks for all you've done for our community and your precious family. Until we meet again.
I can't believe this is the last message I write to you. Your insights and knowledge, enthusiasm, and friendly disposition will be missed greatly. Your contribution to science will live on forever even if you're body cannot. Rest in peace."
"Dear Weidong, The Lick Observatory Supernova Search that you led for so many years was very influential and what made possible to launch the low-z Carnegie Supernova Program In Chile in 2004, and also a model and inspiration for our similar CHASE work in the southern hemisphere. Your legacy will live for ever. I remain very grateful for the wisdom and knowledge that you shared with us."
"I can remember the first day you showed up to Alex's group meeting in Berkeley, bringing sweets from China to share with everyone, like it was yesterday. Joking with you about how hard it was getting sleep between observing and having a new-born baby. I can't believe it has been 14 years...I will miss your smile and your easy kind words to all. Peace."
"Weidong, I will never forget the help you gave me in getting started with research. I am sincerely grateful for your enthusiasm and dedication. Rest in peace among the stars."
"It is hard to believe I will never see you again Weidong. Your science helped us understand so much about the Universe. Your helped so many undergraduates get excited about astronomy. I know that part of your legacy will be that you touched so many with you humanity. I will miss you."
"I am stunned you are gone. I will miss you greatly, from our ping pong games to discussions of science. You had "tons and tons" of enthusiasm and energy. I will miss you."
1999年春，Alex Filipenko在普林斯顿作Lyman Spitzer Lecture时得意地提到，"搜寻超新星，历史上是中国人领先，到了今天，是我的小组领先。前一两年，北京胡的小组超过了我们。现在我的小组又追上去了。原因很简单，我把胡的骨干Weidong Li挖到Berkeley来了。""
SN （除了 Ia）是恒星的天鹅之歌。李老师在 SN 方面的贡献虽然戛然而止，但您的这十多年就如一颗 SN 一样夺目，盖过了我等凡辈毕生的光辉。"
"Very sad to hear the news of Weidong's passing today. We were classmates in college and had since lost contact with each other up until few years ago. To me, Li Wei, as we used to call him back in college time, didn't change a bit. He was still the same energetic and friendly classmate from over 20 years ago..Sadly now I lost contact with him again, this time forever...R.I.P. Li Wei."
you were a great scientist, your articles have always been invaluable reference points for me. I appreciated your friendly and cheerful presence last summer in Sydney. It's hard to realize that I will not meet you again.
I will miss you. Rest in peace."
"天妒英才, 上天才早早地就招回了卫东. by 田文武 我比卫东高一届, 与他同在天文系学习共事达六年之久. 其在校期间学习中表现出来的聪慧和勤奋为众多系友所亲见. 无需我再多言. 他与我更独特的友谊更多的是在乒乓球运动中建立起来的. 卫东的球技突出, 球风也很好. 要是没记错的话, 我俩在系学生会组织的每年一度的系乒乓球比赛中至少成为对手4次,其中3次是在(半)决赛阶段的. 他的执著使我记忆至今. 记得一次练球中, 因为他没能接好我一怪异的发球, 他就连续地请我发这种球,不断琢磨如何回击, 至到接好为止. 与卫东在大学打球的日子对我来讲是非常愉快的记忆, 我猜他也同样享受那些青春的快乐时光, 因为在没有联系近10年之后我们再次联系上时, 他对我说的其中一句话就是他还记得我俩一起打球的画面, 还问我什么时候有机会去加州打球. 唉, 声犹在耳, 人却已去天国."
"I simply cannot accept this tragically shocking news. We may have never met. But I've heard about you and your work so many times from friends and from Alex's talks. My deepest condolences and best regards to your family. R.I.P."
"卫东，你还记得我们俩大年初二一起上兴隆，从南双洞爬到山顶吗？还记得我们一起走下山到长河套吗？你还记得在兴隆站实验楼你让我分享那封邀请你到UC Berkeley做博士后的email 吗？今天晚上刚刚和师大天文系的同学说到你，当我们与天文系的老师通话时才得知你的突然离去，我们被震惊了，心理无法接受。我在网上搜寻，你为什么离我们而去。那张白发的照片告诉我：你太辛苦了！...... 愿你好好安息，与你所爱的星星一起睡吧！愿你的家人平安、健康！"
"Weidong, may you rest in peace among stars which you love. Our thoughts and prayers are with your family."
"It has been three days now since we got this brutal news, and we're still trying to walk out of the shock and sadness. Weidong -- we just cannot believe that you're gone. We will forever remember your smiling face, and the hundreds of days and nights that we spent together in Xinglong. 卫东安息。－ Haojing & Chunmei"
"Weidong, my second adviser, provider of lengthy and extremely useful comments on papers, you are so dearly missed. Things will never be the same around here."
"I still remember when we were observing in Xinglong almost 20 years ago. You were a wonderful friend and an extraordinary scientist. May you find peace among the stars that you loved. Our thoughts and prayers are with your family."
"Weidong, your sudden departure from this world is tragic, and I'm having a terribly hard time accepting it. You were a very dear friend, my most valuable long-term collaborator, and a wonderful mentor to my students and postdocs. I cannot fathom that we will never again have lively discussions, and that your warm smile and kind heart are gone forever. May you rest in peace among the stars."
"You were one of the kindest, sweetest persons that I've ever met. I will remember you fondly. May your soul rest in peace."
"Your smiles and the meeting in this summer will be always kept in mind. Rest in peace, my teacher."
"Rest in peace...."
"You were our friend, our mentor, and our rock. May you find the peace in the beyond that you could not find on Earth."
"Eternal rest grant Weidong, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May the soul of the faithful departed - Weidong, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen."
"This is truly heartbreaking news. Weidong was such a warm, cheerful individual. I can't believe he is gone. Et trobarem molt a faltar."
"We will miss you a lot dear Weidong."
"I cannot make sense of your departure and of your depriving friends and colleagues of your scientific and human presence.
The best people leave us first. From wherever you are, keep close to us. Arrivederci, Weidong."
"Your smile will be missed forever. Rest in peace, dear weidong!"
"Ciao Weidong, ci mancherai moltissimo!"