News - 23-Jan-2023

In Memoriam: dr. Jeff Meisner

Jeff Meisner, postdoc in the Optics Group of the Department of Imaging Science, has passed away on January 1st.  Jeff became severely ill one year ago.  The medical doctors considered his condition at the time life-threatening and decided to amputate one of his feet. Around Christmas last year, the disease returned and he was taken to the hospital in Leiden where he died on his 70th birthday.

Jeff was born in Chicago. He came to Leiden 22 years ago after being hired by prof. Walter Jaffe of the Sterrewacht (astronomy). In 2009 there was a joint project of the group of prof. Jaffe and the Optics Group of TU Delft in which Jeff was postdoc. Since then he came frequently to Delft, although most of his projects where still in Leiden.  

One of the projects in Delft where he achieved outstanding results was a collaboration with major European metrology institutes.  During the two years before he became ill, he was hired by TU Delft to develop new optical experiments for the Applied Physics Master. The experiments are very original and plans are made to finish Jeff’s work and to start using these experiments in our education.

At his funeral, a speaker from the University of Leiden called Jeff a brilliant scientist, which indeed he was. Jeff had a very broad knowledge. He called himself experimentalist but he also knew a lot about theory.

Since 2009 Jeff almost always attended the bi-weekly group meetings of the Optics Group to listen to talks by group members and external guests.  The suggestions and remarks he made and the issues he brought up had much added value and were in particular very helpful for the students. When attending talks, he always listened very attentively, asking questions persistently until some controversial issue was resolved. Scientific discussions with him could be intense, but he never personally attacked people; his aim was to find out what was right and what was not.  He had no respect for reputations and would never accept a claim by a speaker merely because of his or her reputation. Jeff’s  own presentations were no-nonsense and to the point. Nevertheless, listeners quickly grasped the high quality of his work.

Jeff had not only passion for science but he also had compassion for people. He was a pacifist and firmly believed in the equality of people. He had no interest in material goods and disliked authorities. He joined demonstrations regularly, for example a demonstration against government plans to reduce support for handicapped children,  although Jeff had no children of his own.

Jeff held strong principles, both morally and regarding scientific work. He also was a very good educator, who could explain difficult issues well. His strong principles came however with a lack of flexibility and an unwillingness to make compromises. He did not want to work on projects where for some reason a suboptimal solution was preferred over the scientifically optimum solution. He therefore did not fit well in the current university organization and he never held a permanent position. 

The last year was very difficult for Jeff. But he did not give up and did not become bitter after his foot had been amputated. After he had obtained a prothesis he started to come to Delft again.  On 16 December 2022, Jeff attended the Christmas dinner in the Optics Group, as he always did.  Although none of us noticed it, he was already not well at the time. 

I speak on behalf of all group members, staff, technicians and students, when I say  that we all liked Jeff and respected him,  that it was a pleasure to have him in the group and that we all have profited from his knowledge and help. We will miss him.

His website: https://home.strw.leidenuniv.nl/~meisner/

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