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Yuri B. Chernak

Yuri B. Chernyak, an MIT research scientist, died unexpectedly Nov. 23 at the age of 60 in his home in Waltham. His wife, Natasha Chernyak, said he suffered a sudden heart attack.

Chernyak had a “really great personality” and was “one of the brightest,” who had a great career in Russia at the Moscow State University, but bravely put that all in jeopardy and applied for immigration to the U.S., said Evgeny Ter-Ovanesyan, a postdoctoral associate in the same laboratory as Chernyak.

This resulted in “his being fired from his faculty position and prohibited from leaving the Soviet Union,” according to the News Office. Despite this, Chernyak “organized and led the Moscow scientific seminar for refusenik scientists and maintained covert communications among other refuseniks and their supporters in the West,” and earned a second PhD in physics from Tel Aviv University.

Chernyak came to MIT in 1990, and also taught math and physics to undergraduates in the Concourse Program, according to the News Office.

Chernyak worked with Professor Richard J. Cohen in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, according to the MIT News Office. “Yuri provided the spice that conferred a unique flavor and character to our laboratory,” Cohen told the News Office.

“At our weekly laboratory meetings, he could be counted on to challenge concepts and propose new ideas in his typical animated and good-humored fashion,” Cohen said. “When a difficult mathematical or physics problem arose in the laboratory, Yuri was always the go-to person in terms of figuring out a solution because of his broad depth of knowledge in so many areas and his creative ability to solve problems.”

“Yuri was the whole world” and a “very interesting, complicated, talented man,” Natasha Chernyak said.

Besides his wife, Chernyak leaves behind a son, Dimitri, daughter, Julia, and granddaughter, Veronica.