Ronald H. Stowell, a postdoctoral research associate in the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center, passed away shortly after 3:30 a.m. on Sunday, March 4, as confirmed by the Somerville Police. He was 36.
The cause of death has yet to be determined, according to a representative of the Somerville Police.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of a member of our community,” said Pamela Dumas Serfes, a spokesperson for MIT.
Stowell, who came to MIT with a PhD in 2005 from Princeton University’s Program in Plasma Physics, also served as a teaching assistant for the undergraduate math course Differential Equations (18.03) this term. He taught three sections, close to one-tenth of the 18.03 students, according to course instructor Professor Arthur P. Mattuck.
In an e-mail to 18.03 students Sunday, Mattuck described Stowell as “highly knowledgeable about the subject and deeply concerned with how best to teach it.”
“Before the semester, he came in several times to discuss what the best way of running a recitation was,” Mattuck said in the e-mail. “Entirely on his own initiative, he announced and ran one of the two evening quiz review sessions last week.”
Stowell was a “very bright, capable young physicist” who was “full of good ideas,” said Ronald C. Davidson, professor of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University and Stowell’s PhD thesis advisor.
Davidson, who attended Stowell’s wedding a few years ago, also described him as a “very serious physicist” and a “very determined young man.” David said he thought of Stowell as “adventuresome.”
Davidson recalled that, one summer on his way to the California Institute of Technology, Stowell decided to take a road trip instead of flying so that he could stop in Colorado for a few weeks to attend a high-energy physics workshop.
Stowell’s PhD research focused on antihydrogen plasmas — combinations of protons and antiprotons. His thesis was titled “Kinetic Theory for Antihydrogen Re-Combination Schemes.”
Kevin M. Farino ’10, who sat in on some of Stowell’s 18.03 recitations, said Stowell seemed like “a really outgoing guy who liked what he was doing.” Farino said that Stowell was “lively” in section. “That’s why this is so shocking,” Farino said.
Stowell “really cared for imparting knowledge onto us,” said Rodolfo A. Santos ’10, a student in one of Stowell’s recitations. Santos, like Stowell, is interested in high-energy plasma physics, and said he regrets not being able to talk to him about the field. Stowell was “always in a really good mood about … teaching us,” Santos said.
Mattuck requested a moment of silence in his two 18.03 lectures yesterday.
According to the Somerville Police, the case is currently with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which could not comment on the investigation. A representative of the Boston Police Executive Office of Public Safety said that the cause of death was pending and no additional information could be released.
Stowell was a resident of Somerville, Mass. and is survived by his wife and infant daughter.