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         

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.


Posted by Franck Marchis on December 29, 2020
Today it would have been your birthday. If you were still around, and in an alternate reality, I would have probably stopped by to our office to check a few things and probably met you there. We would have talked about our recent observations at Lick or Keck observatory, briefly discussed the last drama at the department, and move on with our lives with a laugh. I am not at UC Berkeley anymore but I do think of you every time I observe a supernova, so somehow you are still here.
Posted by Jiang Zhu on December 12, 2019

Thinking of you...This coming year will be our 30th anniversary of graduating from college. We are planning a reunion and will miss you!

Posted by Dong Xu on December 29, 2018
Hi Weidong,
Think of you from time to time. Wish you a happy life in another world. Encouraged and helped by you. Thank you always!
Posted by nicholas suntzeff on December 12, 2018
In finishing up our latest papers from the CSP, I realized how much of an influence you have had in our field. But that is not what is important. In just reading your name, smiles came back to me remembering who you were - your optimism, your humility, and the respect that your colleagues have for you. All our science - the awards, citations, celebrity, discoveries - pale when I think of how important it is that a good person lived and touched our lives.
Posted by Adam Riess on December 12, 2018
Thinking of you today, Weidong.
You would have loved Alex's 60th Birthday celebration.
Adam Riess
Posted by Haihong Che on February 27, 2018
Hi, Weidong,
I have not come here to say Hi for a bit long time. Today just drop by and say Happy New Year to you!
Posted by Alex Filippenko on December 12, 2017
I think of you frequently, dear Weidong. Your kindness and smile are in my memory, and your contributions to science live on: KAIT is continuing to make discoveries of interesting supernovae. I wish you were still with us.
Posted by Jianyan Wei on December 29, 2016
Thinking and Missing about you, Weidong. Several years to work and play PingPang together with you at Xinglong.
Posted by Alex Filippenko on December 13, 2016
Dear Weidong,
 5 years ago today (Dec. 12) was a terrible day. I miss you more than you could have ever known.
Posted by Adam Riess on December 12, 2016
Thinking of you and missing you today Weidong.
Posted by Wu Liu on December 12, 2016
5 years already. Rest in peace, 卫东. 没想到2010年旧金山是最后一面。
Posted by Alma Zito Menn on December 12, 2015
I miss you and wish you were still here. Your death is a great loss to your friends and to the world.
Posted by Meng Sun on May 9, 2015
Posted by Tong Lu on May 7, 2015
今天才知道大学时同屋的你去了,希望你在天国一切都好。- 鹿通
Posted by Alex Filippenko on December 29, 2014
Dear Weidong,
Today would have been your 46th birthday, had you not departed from this world so suddenly. You would have loved working with our team the past few years; there have been many exciting discoveries. I miss you dearly -- both your collaboration and your friendship.
Posted by yongmei yu on January 10, 2014

祝魂与星空常相伴! 晚到的祝福 by 于咏梅师妹
Posted by Zhichao Xue on December 29, 2013
Those precious time you spent on providing me advice is always be treasured and shining days of future past. You are forever missed, Dr.Li. My mentor, my friend. R.I.P.
Posted by Alex Filippenko on December 12, 2013
Dear Weidong,

Today marks exactly two years since you so tragically left us. Not a day goes by that I don't think about you. You have left a huge hole in my life, and I cherish the time we had in Berkeley. You would have had so much fun studying the interesting new supernovae that have appeared these past two years. Your absence is difficult to comprehend, but we continue our research, partly as a tribute to you. We deeply miss you, Weidong. May you rest in peace.
Posted by Hongxing Yin on December 12, 2013
Posted by chen bai on January 7, 2013
Posted by Alma Zito Menn on January 6, 2013
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.
Posted by Zeng Nianming on March 20, 2012
Posted by Wayne Johnson on March 5, 2012
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.
Posted by Franck Marchis on March 3, 2012
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.
Posted by Paulo Holvorcem on February 27, 2012
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.
Posted by Doug Rich on February 25, 2012
It was sad to hear the news about Weidong. His passing is a great loss to the supernova family, both amateur and professional.
Posted by Ronald Arbour on February 25, 2012
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.
Posted by Tom Boles on February 25, 2012
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.
Posted by miao li on February 12, 2012
Posted by Saurabh Jha on January 18, 2012
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.
Posted by Daniel Perley on January 18, 2012
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.
Posted by Enrico Cappellaro on January 13, 2012
I am in debt with you for the work you have done with supernova search. Rest in peace Weidong.
Posted by Hitoshi Yamaoka on January 13, 2012
Dear Weidong,
I have been looking forward to meet you at Beijing this summer. I will surely remember you in the GA. 一路走好。
Posted by Alma Zito Menn on January 10, 2012
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.
Posted by Melinda Thomas on January 10, 2012
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.
Posted by Chih-Hao Hsia on January 4, 2012
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。
Posted by Michael Rich on December 30, 2011
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.
Posted by Haihong Che on December 28, 2011
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!
Posted by Ken Chen on December 28, 2011
Dr. Li,
Many thanks for your contribution to Astronomy and Astrophysics.
Posted by Pete Roming on December 28, 2011
Thanks for all you've done for our community and your precious family. Until we meet again.

Posted by Jesse Leaman on December 26, 2011
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.
Posted by Mario Hamuy on December 25, 2011
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.
Posted by nicholas suntzeff on December 23, 2011
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.
Posted by Peter Nugent on December 23, 2011
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.
Posted by Peter Blanchard on December 23, 2011
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.
Posted by Adam Riess on December 23, 2011
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.
Posted by Chao WU on December 22, 2011
Posted by Jin Zhu on December 22, 2011
Posted by Zhao-Yu Li on December 20, 2011
Posted by Aigen Li on December 20, 2011
Page 1 of 2

Leave a Tribute

Recent Tributes
Posted by Franck Marchis on December 29, 2020
Today it would have been your birthday. If you were still around, and in an alternate reality, I would have probably stopped by to our office to check a few things and probably met you there. We would have talked about our recent observations at Lick or Keck observatory, briefly discussed the last drama at the department, and move on with our lives with a laugh. I am not at UC Berkeley anymore but I do think of you every time I observe a supernova, so somehow you are still here.
Posted by Jiang Zhu on December 12, 2019

Thinking of you...This coming year will be our 30th anniversary of graduating from college. We are planning a reunion and will miss you!

Posted by Dong Xu on December 29, 2018
Hi Weidong,
Think of you from time to time. Wish you a happy life in another world. Encouraged and helped by you. Thank you always!
Recent stories

Aspen meetings

Shared by nicholas suntzeff on December 12, 2014

Every summer, we would meet once every year or two in Aspen Colorado, as the High-Z Supernova Search Team or as the ESSENCE Team. I am not sure of the year, but it was the early 2000s when this picture was taken at the Aspen Center for Physics. Weidong's expertise was valuable - he was recognized around the world as an expert in finding supernovae and measuring their light curves. He was also a warm, humble, and very intelligent friend. I am thinking about him on this third year since his death and I miss his.

In this photo you can see Alejandro Clocchiatti to the left, Bob Kirshner to the lowe right, Peter Garnavich at the upper left, and Adam Riess's beard at the top right.

Weidong, the good son

Shared by Alma Zito Menn on January 10, 2012

I first met Weidong when he came to study English with my sister. She was thrilled to meet with this enthusiastic, young astronomer.  He taught her many things about his work while practicing English.  She would share their many discussions with me.  Later she also coached Ling. 

Over the years she became their "American Mother"  and I became their "American Auntie",  They were always ready to help her in any way.  Last year Weidong returned to China to be at his mother's death bed.  After he returned, Marilynn was dying.  Weidong spent many hours with her, first at home, and later in the hospital.  My sister kept telling me how much she appreciated his help.  She would say, "he is such a famous scientist but he will do anything to help me.  I am ashamed, I even ask him to take out the garbage!"  Weidong was very generous with his friends.  He also was quite modest about his intelligence and his accomplishments.  My world is a much lonelier place with out him.  He is missed.

An implicitly dependent student

Shared by Paul Canton on January 7, 2012

As an undergraduate I spent a summer in sunny San Diego reducing images taken by KAIT and Nickel that Dr. Li (et. al.) graciously provided.  Today I find myself 1400 miles from home pursuing not only a PhD, but a career in science that I can only hope will be as influential as his.  The fact that I won’t get the chance to thank him in person for his work saddens me, but I feel my experience and drive is a living illustration of just how significant his influence on students was.  RIP Dr. Li, and thank you.