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May. 4th, 2008 @ 07:41 pm Remembering Dr. Carter
Current Mood: nostalgicnostalgic
Some of you may know that Dr. Ashley Carter, director of RISE and adjunct professor of physics at Drew passed away last month. Today was his memorial service at Drew, which was well attended by faculty, staff, students, and alumni, as well as Ash's family. This is not surprising if you ever met Ash--one of the nicest, most decent people I have ever met.

I had the privilege of taking three courses with him (Thermodynamics, Optics, and Quantum Mechanics) as well as doing an independent study my senior year. These were the hardest courses of my undergraduate career, and yet even in the ones I didn't do so well in, I learned so much. I wouldn't have gotten in to graduate school without them (the fact I didn't stay was entirely my own fault.) Most importantly Dr. Carter (as I knew him then) was always available for help or extra discussion if you needed it, but you had to make the commitment to do the work, because that was the only way you would succeed.

I was honored and thrilled Dr. Carter took me on for an independent study on numerical analysis of chaos theory. I wrote some code, plotted some graphs, and read some books. Dr. Carter was awestruck by the computer parts of it, which weren't his forte, but of course he lapped me several times on the physics. Still, I got a nice presentation out of it, and a good taste of doing research.

Ash was a true scientist. He worked in industry at Bell Labs at its peak, doing research in underwater acoustics, work he applied in all his classes. His knowledge, depth and breadth, was prodigious but never intimidating, because he shared it so generously. After every course I took with him, he would give each of us a book or two that he thought we would like based on what interested us most in his classes, usually with a handwritten note inside the cover.

After I returned to Drew, Ash was always interested in what I was doing, and was a frequent conversation partner and friend. He seemed proud of all his students, and I was happy that he seemed to appreciate the work I was doing even though it was not the field I originally studied for. He told me he still talked about my independent study, even recently.

The memorial today showed me just how many lives Ash had touched and how complete his humanity was. I think of Dean Paolo Cucchi's description of Ash as a "uomo universale" -- Universal Man. What a perfect description.

One last anecdote--Dr. Carter would tell a story in his Thermo class about the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. He was very sick with kidney disease years before our class, and was in his hospital bed, thinking of the inevitability of increasing entropy and feeling it play out in his own body. He was beginning to despair, and then realized the 2nd law applies to increasing entropy in closed systems and surely his own body was not a closed system! He then, by his recount, literally willed himself back into health by visualizing the entropy in his body decreasing. He was proud of his accomplishment.

All I could think of when I heard he had succumbed quickly to lung cancer was that the 2nd law finally got the best of him, and that he could no longer decrease his entropy--as is all of our fates.

He will be missed.
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