Obituary for Bernd Schmidt

The Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics mourns the loss of its longtime member

January 20, 2023

On 10 January 2023 Bernd Schmidt, a longtime member of our institute, died unexpectedly at the age of 82. In September last year, he had still participated in a conference at the institute, at which he gave a memorable talk on the early history of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute/AEI). Right after his return to Munich he fell ill and had to undergo emergency surgery from which he did not recover.

Together with Jürgen Ehlers, Bernard Schutz and Helmut Friedrich, Bernd Schmidt was a founding member of our institute and played a pivotal role in the early years after its foundation in 1995, when the institute started with a small group that had moved from Munich to Golm. Over the following years he contributed in an essential way to the build-up of the institute from small beginnings to one of the leading institutes in gravitational physics world-wide, especially during its first years turning AEI into a "hub" for general relativists from all over the world. Prior to his move to Golm Bernd Schmidt had been a member of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Munich since 1973.

Bernd Schmidt was a pioneer in what is nowadays called mathematical relativity, with an exceptional range of interests and breadth of expertise. Accordingly, his contributions cover a very wide range of subjects, starting with his early work on a mathematically precise definition of what constitutes a singularity in general relativity. His contributions include studies of the asymptotics of gravitational fields, the role of symmetries in studying critical collapse, and the investigation of quasinormal modes. Most recently, in joint work with several colleagues he contributed to the development of a general relativistic theory of elasticity which took the subject much further and which will remain a lasting contribution.

After his retirement in 2007 Bernd Schmidt continued to take a strong interest in the development of the institute, and participated actively in the scientific life at AEI whenever time allowed him after his move back to Munich. We will remember him as a friendly colleague, who at times could also be critical but was always ready to help when needed, and as an embodiment of the collective memory of the institute.

Bruce Allen
Alessandra Buonanno
Karsten Danzmann
Guido Müller
Hermann Nicolai
Bernard Schutz
Masaru Shibata

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