His Life

Celebration of a Life Dedicated to Science, God and Family

Winston Ko was born in Shanghai and studied in Hong Kong before immigrating to the United States at the age of 18, sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University), and a master’s and doctorate in physics at the University of Pennsylvania.

Ko dedicated his entire professional life to UC Davis. He arrived as a postdoctoral scholar in 1970 and became a member of the faculty of the Department of Physics in 1972. He served as department chair from 1998 to 2003 when he was appointed dean of the former Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, one of three divisions that constituted the College of Letters and Science at the time. He retired in 2013 after completing two terms as dean and 41 years on the faculty. Since his retirement, Ko continued to have an active presence on campus at symposia and special events, and maintained professional discussions and close friendships with colleagues from many disciplines. 

“Winston Ko brought a deep commitment to excellence and innovation to UC Davis, a commitment that informed his own scholarship, his leadership, and his vision to create a legacy for science leadership at UC Davis. He will be deeply missed,” said Elizabeth Spiller, dean of the College of Letters and Science. 

Ko was an energetic and passionate advocate for UC Davis, and for education in the mathematical and physical sciences, which he believed provided a fundamental background applicable to a wide variety of careers. Under his leadership, the division expanded graduate enrollment, doubled its extramural research funding and opened two new buildings: Mathematical Sciences, housing the departments of Mathematics and Statistics; and Earth and Physical Sciences, housing the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. 

The division, Ko liked to say, encompassed research from the heavens to the deep Earth and from the largest structures of the universe to the smallest subatomic particles. Ko’s own research focused on the latter. In 1992, Ko and other UC Davis physicists were among the first U.S. researchers to join the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment, part of the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, in Switzerland. In 2012 the international team working at the LHC announced the discovery of the long-sought Higgs boson. 

On his retirement, Ko and his wife, Katy, established an endowment to fund a professorship and a public lecture series in the College of Letters and Science. R. David Britt, distinguished professor of chemistry, is the first appointee to the Winston Ko Professorship in Science Leadership. 

His deep commitment to his field was surpassed only by that of his faith in Christ. He was a founding member and Elder of the Davis Christian Chinese Christian Church.

Ko always made time for his family. He was loving husband to wife Katy; active and present in the lives of his son Hao (Fay Wang) and daughter Joy (Vincent Li); adoring grandfather "Wai-Gong" to granddaughter Noemi Li. In addition, he was a dedicated brother and committed uncle.

A Key Player in the History of CMS

This was a message sent to the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment's Endcap Muon Detector (EMU) group, which Winston was a key player in, as detailed below. 
Dear EMU Colleagues,
It is with extreme sadness and shock that we inform you of the unexpected passing of our dear friend and colleague Winston Ko at the age of 76. He died on Friday July 26 while pursuing a favorite pastime, hiking, with his family at Big Sur State Park, on the central coast of California. 
Winston was a leader in defining CMS and U.S. CMS, and UC Davis was in the first four United States institutions to officially join the nascent CMS Collaboration at a time when the focus of U.S. high energy physics was on the SSC. As such he was a signatory of the CMS Letter of Intent in 1992, when he and others at UC Davis were still involved with the AMY Experiment at the Tristan e+e- collider at the KEK laboratory in Japan.
In the early planning stages of CMS, Winston was involved in the decision for the first U.S groups to develop the Endcap Muon (EMU) detector subsystem, and the technology choice of cathode strip chambers. He was instrumental in bringing to UC Davis the development project of the switched capacitor array (SCA) ASIC, a crucial component of the CSC readout. Winston was also the first CMS Muon Software Coordinator. 
(The story of how UC Davis joined CMS is attached postscript, as is a screenshot of a video of a toast during the 2014 U.S. CMS Granlibakken meeting in honor of the founding of U.S. CMS, and of the memory of one of the early *CMS* collaboration meetings, held at Granlibakken in 1995.)
Winston later served as Chair of the Physics Department, and then as Dean of the Division of Mathematics and Physical Sciences until his retirement in 2013 with nearly 50 years of service to UC Davis. Even during his university leadership, he remained involved with CMS, especially in procuring funding and helping to keep UC Davis involved in EMU.

Many of us continued to benefit from his experience, wisdom, and friendship even in these years after his retirement.  We will miss his optimistic attitude and always cheerful smile. Our sincerest condolences go out to his family and friends.
We plan to send a message to all of CMS as well, but wanted this EMU group to be informed first, since Winston was such an important member of EMU.

-- UC Davis CMS:
Richard Breedon, Maxwell Chertok, John Conway, Timothy Cox, Robin Erbacher, Richard Lander, Michael Mulhearn, David Pellett, John R. Smith, S. Mani Tripathi  
PS: The UC Davis CMS beginnings, as recalled by the original group founder and leader, R. Lander, in which Winston played a large role:
Here is pretty much the story of how UCD got into CMS.
First, we had been working in KEK (e+e_) on the AMY detector collaboration that was led by Steve Olsen.  That detector had a small high intensity magnetic field.
Winston liked the idea of a small solenoid with a high field, so when the SSC was proposed and there was a call for detector designs, Winston suggested that we should propose a compact, high field solenoid designed to look almost exclusively for muons. I designed such a detector for the coming SSC.
So this was a Compact Muon Solenoid design. (We didn't call it CMS.)  Muons because one of the main decay modes of the Higgs was expected to be just four muons.  (That turned out to be true when the Higgs was later discovered at CERN.)  We called our proposal 10^34 because it could handle the highest intensity of the SSC; the other proposed detectors would not be able to operate at that beam intensity.  Note that our proposal was before the SSC was cancelled and CERN took on the search with their proposed new accelerator.
Our proposal was not selected, but CERN had been competing with the U.S. SSC project, so we wrote a Letter-of-Intent for such a detector at a CERN accelerator, if it should be constructed.  UCD was the first U.S. group to propose to work with CERN on this Higg search project.  A group at CERN had been planning a similar detector, and we joined with them for the compact solenoid design.. (They recognized that we the same concept independently of them.)  The CMS came from this group.  The CMS was approved to be one of the detectors at the CERN accelerator.
Then when it came to assigning design and construction tasks within CMS there was a problem among groups for construction of the muon component.  Winston was at a meeting and broke the impasse by suggesting that the barrel and forward muons be separate projects.  That was accepted and UCD got into the forward muon project.  
That's it.  -Dick