Colleagues remembering Walter Thiel

September 16, 2019

Obituaries on Prof. Dr. Walter Thiel who passed away unexpectedly on August 23rd, 2019.

The scientific community has reacted very strongly to the sudden passing of Prof. Walter Thiel. Many E-Mails of colleagues from all over the world have reached us expressing their condolences and sharing their memories about Walter Thiel. Below we have collected them as a reflection of how important Walter Thiel was for the community and how many careers and lives he has influenced. If you want to share your memories about Walter Thiel here, please contact us by E-Mail.

A very touching obituary by Sason Shaik, Yitzhak Apeloig and Helmut Schwarz

It has been a sad day for me. I lost a friend and a scientific partner during an intense decade of P450 chemisry.
Sadly, Sason

-    Sason Shaik, Hebräische Universität Jerusalem, Israel

This is unbelievable sad news. Among the quantum chemists of my generation he was the one I appreciated most - as a scientist and as a close colleague. We will miss him very much,

-    Joachim Sauer, Humboldt Universität Berlin, Germany

Walter was the president of WATOC during the six-year period 2011 - 2017 and oversaw the successful WATOC conferences in Santiago de Chile (2014) and Munich (2017).  He was a towering figure in European and international computational chemistry, with a career that spanned more than 40 years.  He won our 2002 Schrödinger Medal and was a member of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science.  He will be remembered by his colleagues and friends as a top scientist who was also a kind and generous man.

-    Helmut Schwarz, TU Berlin, Germany

We have lost a giant in a field and a great friend. His  kindness and generosity were his trademark. Always positive, ready to help and give advise.
Personnally I met him long ago and even if we did not collaborate, we enjoy greatly discussing together. He gave me extremely valuable advises for the organisation of the last ICQC in Menton. It was a privilege to have him as an invited speaker at this meeting and also to be with him when he received the Almlöf-Gropen lecture from the Hylleras center  (University of Oslo and The Artic University of Norway) in May 2018. We have lost an immense member of the community and an even greater friend.

-    Odile Eisenstein, President, International Academy of Quantum Molecular Sciences, France

Walter was an outstanding scientist, wonderful colleague, and good friend. He split his 79-80 sabbatical from Wuppertal with my group and with NASA Ames (Andy Komornicki). After Walter moved to the University of Zurich, he would invite me to visit for a day each summer.  When the call came from the Max Planck, he was offered an unprecedented  joint Chaired Professorship with ETH Zurich. I thought Walter would choose to remain in Zurich, but he moved to Muelheim, so his wife would not lose her reaching position in Germany. I was delighted to visit Walter three times at the Max Planck.  Leo Radom and I conspired to get Walter to be President of WATOC, and he easily won the election.   I was looking forward to Walter’s lecture in San Diego this week. Farewell good friend.

-    Henry F. Schaefer, University of Athens Georgia, USA

I join every word of Helmut. I want to add that Walter was for many years a dedicated member of the Board of the Minerva Lise Meitner Center for Computational Chemistry in Israel ( directed by Sason Shaik and myself). He contributed significantly to the sucess of the Center. The Israeli computational community owe Walter  a lot !
We will miss Walter very much,

-    Yitzhak Apeloig,  Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel

I have the greatest admiration for Walter; he made pioneering contributions to semiempirical MO theory and QM/MM calculations. Interactions with him were always stimulating and characterized by his warm, positive attitude. I am very saddened by his early loss. Attached is a photo from his 60th birthday celebration in Mulheim in February 2010; you will recognize many of the scientists who came to celebrate Walter and his work.

-    Bill Jorgensen, University of Yale, USA

This is a very sad day for all members of our community. Walter was a very good scientist and an excellent person. We will miss him a lot. Our condolences for his wife and his family
Manuel and Otilia

-    Manuel Yanez, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain

This is very sad. We lost a top scientist and a fine person.
My condolences for his family.

-    Marco Nascimento, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

I found myself sharing an office with  Walter in 1974,  when I was but a rookie computational post doc and he, only a year older, was already the person everyone went to for sage advice and guidance. I treasure the foundation of good advice and knowledge he gave our entire group. We will greatly miss him.

-    Hence S Rzepa, Emeritus Professor Imperial College London

Walter will be remembered not only for his numerous fundamental contributions to quantum chemistry but also his stron support of young scientists from all over the world. He will surely be missed.

-    Qiang Cui, Boston University, USA

Very sad news. Another good one gone too soon.

  Tony Ford, International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry

This is a shocking sad news. I miss him very much for his being true theoretical chemist and for his splendid personality. The chemical and scientific world miss him deeply.

-    Hiroshi Nakatsuji, Kyoto, Japan

Dear Frank, We are all very shocked by this event. Walter and his wife came to New Zealand about 10 years ago, and they had a wonderful time there. So many memories from this, and of course the conferences and many interesting discussions we had. Walter was a fine colleague and I respected him not only as a scientist but also as a human being. Please forward my sincere sympathies to the family, they are always welcome to visit us in New Zealand.

-    Peter Schwerdfeger, Auckland, New Zealand

I have met Walter Thiel through the years at conferences and I have of course  been very familiar with his work for a long time, even before meeting him.He was a kind of hero for me for his great achievements. He was always friendly and humble. I remember meeting him and his wife in Spain at an ESPA conference. We took a boat trip together. They were lovely. He always had time for other people and he was always smiling. The last time I met him was at MQM 2019. He was smart and kind as usual. He will be greatly miss but we will always be inspired by him.

-    Laura Gagliardi, University of Minnesota, USA

I'm late to the news of the passing of Walter Thiel. A giant of quantum chemistry with an uncanny appreciation for how key approximations could push boundaries of scale in time and length. A warm individual whose laughter leavened his conversation. A legacy to remember.

-    Christopher Cramer, University of Minnesota, USA (via Twitter)

I am deeply saddened — Walter was always very supportive, always considerate, and I owe him much.

-    Trygve Helgaker, University of Oslo, Noway

Der  voellig unerwartete ploetzliche Tod von Walter hat mich zutiefst erschuettert und ich habe zu Beginn meines Vortrages in San Diego seiner gedacht. Er war ein grossartiger Wissenschaftler und Kollege und seit seiner Zeit in Zuerich auch ein guter Freund .

-    Martin Quack, ETH Zürich, Switzerland

The unexpected and sudden death of Walter Thiel makes me very sad. I knew Walter for about 35 years, as a theoretical chemistry colleague as well as from our common activities within the German Chemical Society. I will always remember him as a most valuable teacher and advisor and most of all a good personal friend I could always count on. He will be missed.

-    Wolfram Koch, Geschäftsführer der GdCh

Walter Thiel - From Czechia with Love (and Sorrow)

With deep sorrow and sadness in our hearts we received here at the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry in Prague the news of the sudden death of Walter Thiel. For many of us, Walter has been a very influential colleague and a friend. His scientific endeavours often guided our own research, whether they have been his fundamental contributions to semi-empirical quantum chemistry, or his seminal work in computational enzymology, which included developments in combined quantum and molecular mechanical (QM/MM) techniques. For many years, Walter served as a member of our International Advisory Board and it has been a great pleasure for us to listen to his thoughtful comments on the quality of our research and future directions of science at IOCB. His truly gentlemanly conduct and his deep knowledge of (not only computational) chemistry will be always gratefully remembered. Dear Walter, we thank you very much for everything you have done for us personally and for our Institute.

-  Pavel Hobza, Zdenek Havlas, Pavel Jungwirth, Lubos Rulisek, Ullrich Jahn, and Zdenek Hostomsky, - Prague.

I was terribly shocked and deeply saddened by the news about Walter Thiel. He was obviously great scientist and leader in the field of theoretical chemistry, but for me he was also a very nice person with particularly endearing personality.  He visited us in Warsaw in 2017 as a Laureate of the Kolos Medal and Lecture Award and we were so impressed by the scientific quality of his lectures and the charismatic way he presented them. His premature departure is a huge loss for our community.

-    Bogumil Jezorski, Warsaw, Poland

I wanted to say how sorry I was to hear of the shocking news of the passing of Walter Thiel. We have lost a great and supportive colleague. Just to say that if KOFO are organising a memorial meeting for Walter I would very much appreciate attending, and if there is anything I can do, please do not hesitate to ask.

-    Ali Alavi, MPI für Festkörperforschung, Stuttgart

I have had the privilege to interact with Walter at meetings, conferences, and during my visits to Mülheim. I vividly remember him at the very first STC I attended in 1997 as an undergraduate, and of course at the 1998 STC in Gwatt which he organized. Apart from his intellectual brilliance and his passion for chemistry, his willingness to listen to, care about, and encourage junior scientists has left a lasting impression on me. On this very sad day, my thoughts are with you, Walter's family, friends, colleagues and students.

-    Fillip Furche, University of Irvine, California

In Walter's passing, we lose not only a friend and a great scientist, but also a leading example of how best to behave in science: in my interactions with him Walter was unfailing supportive, and generous in giving credit to, and celebrating, the perhaps more modest contributions of others around him. He was, of course, a giant of German quantum chemistry, and his contributions to semi-empirical theories, QM/MM and sampling methods, to name just a few, will long be remembered; but the large, collegial network of former coworkers and collaborators will form just as important a part of his legacy in science. We will all miss him.

-    Fred Manby, University of Bristol, UK

As so many, I was shocked by the news that we lost Walter so suddenly.  I remember him as a warm-hearted, cheerful colleague with strong  interest in both people and science.

-    Evert Jan Baerends, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

I was shocked when I received the first email by Odile: I still have in mind the great day we had at his symposium in March.
To me Walter has been much more than a great scientist, he has been an example to follow: I’ll really miss him
My sincere condolences to the family, to you and to all his collaborators at Mülheim

-    Benedetta Mennucci, Pisa, Italy

The untimely passing of Walter Thiel came as a huge shock. He was an excellent scientist and a universally respected colleague within the WATOC community and beyond.  I have fond memories of a day spent visiting him Zurich shortly before he returned to Germany.  He was the epitome of a gracious host.  He will be missed and remembered by his friends and colleagues.

-    Russel Boyd, Dalhousie University, Canada

It is with great sadness.  We have just celebrate his 70th birthday in Beijing a few months ago.  Walter was so pleasant and dynamic.  I still can't accept he is gone.  My first contact with Walter was in 1991 through email requesting molecular structures of a number of fullerenes.  Then I met him in person during a European network meeting in Copenhagen in 1995. He was very nice to me and we talked quite long walking in the campus.  
Then, I met him during his first visit to Beijing around 2003. then we had many meetings together: the academic committee in Xiamen both as the members, the international academy of quantum molecular science for which both of us are actively involved, and the WATOC meeting.  Every time I present my work, I received his encouragement including invitation for review articles which highly motivated me.  He is a giant in theoretical and computational chemistry.  We will always remember Walter.

- Zhigang Shuai, Beijing, China

It is indeed a sad news that Walter passed away. Since I have known him quite well for a long time, I feel particularly sad. It is a great loss in computational chemistry community in that he was a great figure  not only in research but also in chemistry social community. He was just a right person of wonderful humanity in our scientific community. Rest in peace.

-    Kwang Soo Kim, Ulsan, Korea

We have lost a bright mind and a kind soul. May his memory keeps him alive through all of us.

-    Annia Galano, San Rafael, Mexico

Just a few lines to express how devastated I feel with the news of the decease of Walther. I knew Walther for ages, he was not only a great scientist but also a nice person, calm, equilibrated and always open to other people ideas. It has been a pleasure to work with him in journals and evaluation panels. Really a very big loss for the community.

-    Modesto Orozco, IRB Barcelona, Spain

In the sad demise of Walter, we lost a great scientist, a close friend, a good human being, a  computational chemistry enthusiast who was willing to spread it around the world. May his soul rest in Peace.

-    Eluvathingal D. Jemmis , Bangalore, India

Die ueberraschende Nachricht ueber den Tod von Professor Walter Thiel hat mich ueber Email auf einem Workshop zum Thema “Maschinelles Lernen” erreicht.  Sie hat mich tief erschuettert und betroffen gemacht, war Walter Thiel doch immer auf dem Weg zu neuen wissenschaftlichen Hoechstleistungen, kuerzlich z.B. was die Verbindung von kuenstlicher Intelligenz und modernen Elektronenstrukturmethoden angeht.  Ich habe Walter vielleicht zuerst auf dem DFTB Workshop 2007 bei dem ACS Meeting in San Francisco gesehen, und war zutiefst beeindruckt von der Tiefe seines Wissens, seines scharfen Denkens, seiner respektvollen, freundlichen und herzlichen Umgangsweise mit Kollegen und Freunden, und seines wissenschaftlichen Weitblicks.  Ich denke ich habe ihn nicht ein einziges Mal das Wort “MNDO” sagen gehoert, das war vermutlich fuer ihn Vergangenheit, jedoch fuer mich und fuer viele in der Computerchemie-Gemeinschaft bedeutenten diese 4 Buchstaben am Anfang des Computerchemie-Studiums den Einstieg in die quantenchemische Behandlung von Molekuelen die fuer “normalsterbliche” Chemiker von Relevanz waren.  Er war ein Allroundgenie der das gesamte quantenchemische Register von MNDO ueber OMx hin zu CASPT2 und MRCI ziehen konnte, in bewundernswerter Eleganz und mit nachhaltigem Einfluss auf die Literatur und das gesamte Fachgebiet.  Darueber hinaus spricht die Anzahl seiner Studenten und wissenschaftlichen Mitarbeitern, die heute eigene Quantenchemiegruppen oder Arbeitskreise leiten, fuer sein herausragendes didaktisches und erzieherisches Talent und seine beruehrenden menschlichen Qualitaeten.  Ich werde Walter auf Tagungen und in der Literatur schmerzlich vermissen, aber bin sicher dass ich sein Wirken und seine Handschrift weiterhin in der Literatur und in der Diskussion mit Kollegen finden werde koennen.   Meine aufrichtige Anteilnahme gilt seiner Famile, Arbeitsgruppe, und allen die ihm nahestanden.

-     Stefan Irle, Oak Ridge, USA

mit Bestürzung und tiefer Trauer habe ich vom Ableben von Walter Thiel erfahren. Ich bin geschockt und fassungslos, er war ja auf dem Richtfest noch in scheinbar bester Gesundheit und Laune unter uns. Ich habe Walter als Wissenschaftler bewundert, als Kollegen geschätzt, und als Freund wahrgenommen.

-    Walter Leitner, MPI Chemical Energy Conversion, Mülheim, Germany

mit Bestürzung habe ich heute vom Tod von Walter Thiel erfahren. Dies ist besonders traurig, weil viele von uns im März noch mit ihm in Mülheim seinen 70. Geburtstag feiern durften. Ich kannte Walter Thiel seit 1977, als er mich auf der GDCh-Tagung in München ansprach und mir durch seine klugen Bemerkungen auffiel. 1980 lud ich ihn als Habilitanden zu einem Kolloquiumsvortrag über semiempirische Methoden für chemische Reaktionen nach Hannover ein. Jahre später habe ich seine interessanten Ergebnisse zur Struktur von Fullerenen in meine Vorlesung aufgenommen.
Wir haben uns oft auf Tagungen getroffen und sind immer in Kontakt geblieben. Was Walter Thiel auszeichnete, war nicht nur seine wissenschaftliche Kreativität, sondern besonders seine liebenswürdige Art, die er zeitlebens bei allen Erfolgen beibehalten hat. In den letzten Jahren hat er in konstruktiver Weise das Genealogieprojekt Theoretische Chemie (TCGP) gefördert und eine Installation des Programms in Mülheim ermöglicht, so dass der Datenbestand unabhänig von einzelnen Personen für lange Zeit gesichert ist. Wir werden Walter Thiel in dankbarer Erinnerung behalten.

-    Karl Jug, Hannover, Germany

Professor Walter Thiel will remain my greatest inspiration to pursue an academic career in India. He was not only a great scholar but also a good human being, supported me in my past endeavors and struggles. May his soul rest in peace. We will miss you Sir.

-    Debasis Koley Mohanpur, IISER Kolkata, India

I liked him as a great scientist, great person and a good friend.

-    Miroslav Urban, Bratislava, Slovakia

mit Anteilnahme und Betroffenheit habe ich die traurige Nachricht vom unerwarteten Tode von Walter Thiel aufgenommen, zumal wir im vergleichbaren Alter sind.
Walter Thiel kenne ich aus meiner aktiven Zeit als theoretischer Chemiker am Fachbereich Chemie der Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg vor allem von den Jahrestagungen der AG TC mit den Kollegen aus Österreich und der Schweiz sowie den WATOC-Kongressen.
Walter Thiel war für mich immer ein herausragender Wissenschaftler und beeindruckender Kollege, der sich auch besonders in der Nachwendezeit für die Entwicklung der Theoretischen Chemie an den wissenschaftlichen Einrichtungen in Ostdeutschland eingesetzt hat. So hat er auch an unserer Universität gemeinsam mit Frau Prof. Sigrid Peyerimhoff dazu beigetragen, was ich persönlich bestätigen kann.
Besonders erstaunt war ich bei einer Teilnahme an einer Arbeitstagung Theoretische Chemie in Mariapfarr, wo Walter Thiel sich auch als exzellenter Abfahrtsskifahrer präsentiert hatte. Rückblickend werde ich Walter Thiel immer als einen Wissenschaftler mit Vorbildwirkung in Erinnerung behalten.

-    Rudolf Friedemann, Universität Halle, Germany

"Walter Thiel’s passing comes as a big shock to all of us, to his family, friends, and colleagues all over the world. This is a great loss to the whole scientific community."

Pavlo Dral, co-worker of Walter Thiel,

I first met Walter when I visited Marburg to give a lecture there. At that time Walter still was a PhD student in Marburg supervised by Prof Schweig and I remember well a lengthy discussion (much longer than with anybody else during my stay) with him about photoelectron spectra, a subject of very high actuality at that time. I don't remember the exact year, but it must have been close to his defense, so probably 1973. Since then, we always had a pleasant, respectful and friendly relationship and I closely followed his career and science.
He will stay in my memory as a companion from youth to now.

Prof. Lorenz Cederbaum, Physikalisch-Chemisches Institut, Heidelberg, Germany

Prof. Dr. Gernot Frenking, Philipps Universität Marbug, Germany

Professor Frenking expresses his condolences here.

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