Alex Marin: Testimonials

This page is part of the Alex Marin Memorial. If you have anything you would like to add to this page, please send us an email.

Daniel Levin (in PDF here)

I am struggling to describe the shock and sadness felt by the loss of our dear friend and colleague. Alex – or more formally Alexandru (as I liked to call him for short) was above all a warm, generous, compassionate human being. He was a physicist possessed with extraordinary depth and experience, great and sometimes hidden talents, and a superb intellect all of which was nicely wrapped up in a package of dry wit and humor.

He so often used to enjoy snowing or fooling me and pulling my leg with his tales that the words “Dan, I’m just kidding” became for him almost a form of verbal punctuation. And just as often when he had to convey some important observation of his, no matter how self-evident, he would feel compelled to append “Dan, really… I’m not kidding!” in order to be certain that I believed him. For my part, I for some perverse reason used to introduce him to others as my friend, Alex the KGB agent-and he would reciprocate by claiming that I worked for the Mossad. Over the years we both grew tired of that joke. (Or was it a joke?)

It is, of course, an impossible task and a great injustice to assemble Alex’s life from the scattered memories and experiences that have been accumulating over the 18 years that we have been friends. I will share with you just random fragments and from these the vessel in is entirety will have to be imagined.

Alex came to the New World in the early 80’s, and eventually surfaced at Boston University where I would later report for graduate school. Throughout these first years in the United States- passing from Indiana and then to Boston – he waited and labored for three years for his wife and daughter to be allowed to emigrate and join him. A three year wait for his family — this was a lament that I have heard from him so many times. I can easily write it down- but have never been able to fully grasp its enormity.

It was at Boston University where we met – working with Steve Ahlen, my then thesis advisor. Our friendship was cemented during tours in Italy where we worked together initially at Frascati and then at the Gran Sasso lab in the province of Abruzzo helping to construct an enormous particle detector deep under the mountain. (This was the MACRO cosmic ray muon and monopole experiment.) There we sometimes found ourselves along with a mutual friend and colleague Stuart Mufson from Indiana. I believe that we imagined that the three of us probably comprised the entirety of the Jewish community of Abruzzo. (After such a collective revelation there was nothing to do but go feast on wonderful prosciutto and other treif.)
It was in these Italian sojourns that Alex would reveal some details of his earlier life. It happened for example, that during some weekend outing, motoring around the Italian countryside- we strolled into small villages. At that time I could gurgle a few words in Italian but had limited capacity to comprehend what was spoken back to me. Alex, a native Romanian could decipher Italian when he heard it- but had no facility for speech. So, him and I together formed a complete transmit-receive unit and we were thus able to function admirably. In this mode we visited the local merchants: vendors of cheeses, meats, produce. One shop that I recall entering with Alex was a gallery of wall-to-wall sausage and meat delicacies. Whole and quartered animals: deer, wild boar still with their fur were suspended from the ceilings. The walls and shelves were lined with fragrant salamis and with products where virtually every piece of the animal had been rendered into something for human consumption. To my delicate sensitivities I found all of this mildly revolting. Alex would take one look, inhale deeply and exclaim: “Deeleecious!” He then regaled me with a description of a period in his Romanian life marked by severe shortages – in particular where so little food was available, aside from beets. He conjured a life supported by beets. Beets to be consumed for all meals- three times a day and for I don’t recall how long. So – a sausage store like the one we were in was an unimaginable gold mine. Indeed thereafter- when sharing meals together, or hosting him with my family there was never any delicacy that failed to please him. Of course I never dared serve him beets.

During the writing of my thesis Alex was a fountain of knowledge and inspiration. There was never a time when I would feel abashed to seek his guidance. Physics is an endeavor pursued by intelligent and accomplished people- but also people who could- in their intelligence and achievements also be intimidating and not always open to the inquiries of less experienced students. Often times in the course of my career I wished fervently for a compassionate friend who just happened to be a physicist! Alex was that person. There was never a question too simple, too basic for his erudition, never a topic he was not willing to discuss. He was eminently approachable- and generous with his attention- a first class mensch.

There were also occasions during which Alex revealed a subtly hidden talent and passion- which emerged when he got behind the steering wheel. This passion was apparent even more behind the wheel of a sports car, and was most prominent behind the wheel of a fast car on an Italian highway. If there is a gan eden – a paradisiacal heaven – and this is certainly not a prospect that to my knowledge Alex entertained- the road to it resembles the Amalfi coast highway, with plenty of sausage shops along the route.

Alex also enjoyed driving his Mercedes sports car here in Geneva and surrounding country. It was an automobile of which he was inordinately proud to own. Whoever heard of a Mercedes sports sedan for the price of Honda civic? Well now, I have- many times! But — without question – and “really I am not kidding” nothing on Earth made him prouder than his beautiful and accomplished daughter and his 9 month old grand-daughter. Anyone who knew Alex would know also about Catherine.

I have worked on and then off and then on again with Alex for 18 years. Eighteen years of friendship. I am not one to indulge in kabbalistic fantasies- yet in this moment of sorrow I am compelled to point out that, in Hebrew, the number 18, being represented by the letters chet-yud carries special, nearly mystical significance. These letters designate the word khai, the word that means “life”. The duration of such a friendship be it for 18 years or for 18 days constitutes a life experience that can never be duplicated, never be forgotten and never be destroyed.

Mihai Caprini (in PDF here)

I met Alex Marin (we called him Minou) in 1962 through a common friend, Sorin Cohn. Minou and I were students in the first year at the”Faculty of Electronics and Telecommunications” at the “Politechnica” in Bucharest. Starting with the second year all three of us were studying in the “Physics Engineering” department. Then, after graduation, we were colleagues again at the Institute of Atomic Physics in Bucharest, until 1983, when Minou left for the United States.

We met again in 1992 when Sorin and I went to Boston and we spent a very pleasant evening at Irina and Minou, perfect hosts. At that time Minou was working at Boston University. After 1989 we were in contact again. Minou was involved in one of the experiments (GEM) in preparation for the Dallas Superconducting Super Collider, and proposed a project with the aim to prepare a possible contribution of team of physicists from Bucharest to SSC. But the SSC project was cancelled in 1992.

Since 1994 I started to work for the ATLAS experiment for the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Minou was also working for this experiment. We met more frequently since February 2004, when Minou started to come often to CERN for testing the ATLAS Muon chambers designed and produced by a group of American universities. In May 2005 Minou moved to Europe to work at the CERN laboratories. We spent many evenings together in St. Genis, where I was living, not far from his house in Thoiry, France, near CERN. We walked in the Jura Mountains, and were getting together with friends and university colleagues in Grenoble or St. Genis.

Minou liked to remember the time he was working in Bucharest for physics experiments to be installed on satellites. This was physics in “extreme conditions.” A lot of ingenuity was needed to imagine and build the devices to pass all the preliminary tests, to install them on a satellite and make them send useful scientific data. Minou loved activities where physics and engineering were mixed together, where smart ideas had to be implemented with simple practical solutions, and he was very good at them. Such qualities were highly appreciated by his colleagues in Bucharest as well as by those he was working with recently in the testing and installation of the ATLAS Muon Spectrometer. For me the project initiated by Minou in the early 90s to evaluate a possible contribution of Romanian physicists to the GEM experiment played a special role. The study of the GEM data acquisition system helped me very much in my later work for ATLAS.

In May 2005 (World Year of Physics) some physicists from Bucharest organized a special event: an evening Radio talk-program about Physics. Minou was one of the four physicists from abroad invited to join the program. He spoke with much passion about the ATLAS experiment and about what this experiment could bring new to the field of physics.

During our evenings together in St. Genis, we discussed several times about what happened in recent years and how things are going in Romania. Minou was very well informed. His opinions showed wisdom and good sense. His judgment was showing his understanding of the evolution of the Romanian society. Another preferred subject of his was family. Minou was very proud of his daughter Catherine and his granddaughter Audrey. We also discussed several times about the period presented in the book recently written by his father (with a foreword by Minou). Minou highly appreciated his father for his exceptional professional activities and special human qualities.

I will never forget the day of November 1st 2005, when Minou called me, told me that he was not feeling good and asked me to find a doctor. It was a Holyday in France and all medical offices were closed. We decided to call the emergency service. When I arrived to his house in Thoiry the helicopter to transport him to the hospital was already there. Minou was alert and we talked before the helicopter took off. Who could have thought then that it was too late …

Sandro Palestini (in PDF here)

I have been a relatively recent collaborator of Alex, only from the ATLAS experiment. In particular, I coordinate the integration of the End-Cap part of the Muon Spectrometer, which includes the assembly and test work taking place at CERN in building 180. This is the building in which Alex worked at CERN. I had been therefore in regular contact with Alex since spring 2005.

The collaboration with Alex was very good on both professional and human grounds. He was very motivated in his work, and in particular he always appeared interested in both the progress of his activity, typically done with close collaborators from US institutes, and in the success of the overall project. Unfortunately, large collaborations in our field sometimes suffer a little from keeping separate the general project from the day-to-day activities of single institutes. Alex appeared to me to be free from this, probably because of both his open nature and of his long and articulated career in experimental physics. I appreciated very much his collaborative spirit, which was particularly useful for my job.

Working with Alex was interesting and constructive also because he liked to analyze and discuss in detail the various issues that we had to face. He would make sure to understand somebody else’s argument, and to get his ones well understood. After the discussion and the agreement on a plan, he would put his efforts into it.

We were all very struck by what happened so suddenly last fall. In the ceremony for the plaque, I wanted to say a few words representing the people, with different backgrounds and from many different countries, who work on the assembly and test of the sectors. I wanted to express how sorry they were for Alex’s passing away, although they did not know him for a long time. I appreciated very much the speeches by his colleagues of many years, and by members of his family, at the funeral ceremony and at CERN.

Bing Zhou (in PDF here)

I felt much pain when I heard the sad news that Alex, our best friend and most valuable colleague, passed away! It is still hard for me to believe he is gone! We had a long chat at CERN just a few weeks before his death on how to speed up the phase II operations of the project we were working on. He looked fine then!

I have known Alex since I was a fresh post-doctoral student at Boston University in 1987. We worked together on several balloon flight projects, PBAR, EXAM, and SMILI, on SSC L* and GEM proposals, on tracking detector R&Ds, on the L3 experiment, and on the ATLAS Muon construction and commissioning projects. He was the physicist whom I always trusted and respected. Working with him made me feel confident and be productive on projects. Alex is the kind of physicist who never avoided making his hands ‘dirty’. The most practical solutions and smart ideas in our projects always came from him. I wish I had captured more of his experience and knowledge in our many years of collaboration as co-workers, and strong friendship. Alex was not talking much about his personal life, but a lot about his daughter, Catherine, he was very proud of.

We lost Alex at a moment when we really needed his help in the ATLAS Muon project. We are proud of him. He was an outstanding physicist whom we will always remember, and his spirit will always be with us.

ATLAS Secretariat (in PDF here)

It is with great sorrow that we inform you that our colleague Alexandru Marin passed away yesterday afternoon. Alex was a very central member of the ATLAS MUON Spectrometer community and played an important role both in the construction and the commissioning of the MDT End-Cap Chambers. His dedication, knowledge and optimistic attitude in solving problems were an inspiration to all who knew him. His contributions are of those which will make sure that one day ATLAS will become a reality.

Alex passed away at the age of 60. Over the past two weeks in the Geneva hospital Alex put up a brave fight against a fast-developing illness. All of us will miss Alex deeply.

Our thoughts during these sad days go to his family, his friends and colleagues.