A number of experienced scientists have died, often under mysterious conditions, over the past couple of years, the latest being a NASA expert in robotics who worked on space missions.
As reported by Britain’s Daily Mail, the latest scientist casualty is Alberto Behar, 47, of Scottsdale, Arizona, who was killed instantly when the small plane he was piloting recently crashed into a Los Angeles intersection in a nosedive shortly after take-off.
The paper said the plane took off from Van Nuys Airport, according to the LA County Coroner. Behar, the paper continued, worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena for 23 years and was also a research professor at Arizona State University. He worked on a pair of Mars missions and had spent years researching how robots would work in hard conditions and environs, like volcanoes and deep underwater.
The Daily Mail further reported:
As part of the NASA team exploring Mars with the Curiosity rover, Behar was responsible for a device that detected hydrogen on the planet’s surface as the rover moved.
“His career was dedicated to better understanding Earth and the other planets,” JPL Science Division manager Michael Watkins in a statement.
Just the latest in a long line of dead scientists
His research with the Mars missions helped discover that at one time there was water on the planet.
Behar’s additional work seems innocuous enough. In 2010, he assisted in designing a camera that was able to capture a miniscule, shrimp-like sea creature swimming deep below the Antarctic ice sheet, a discovery that was highly unexpected. His colleagues and research associates said he was especially notable for narrowing the divide between scientists attempting to study inhospitable environments and engineers whose robots are able to survive such conditions.
“From his submarines that peeked under Antarctica to his boats that raced Greenland’s rivers, Alberto’s work enabled measurements of things we’d never known,” NASA scientist Thomas Wagner told the Mail in a statement. “His creativity knew few bounds. He is, and will forever be, sorely missed.”
The cause of the crash is, as of this writing, still under investigation.
The New York Times further reported that Behar ran Arizona State’s Extreme Environments Robotics and Instrumentation Laboratory, and that he “had a passion for creating autonomous craft” that contained “sensors or cameras that could probe places no human could ever go.” One of those was “down the great roaring watery drain pipes, or moulins, that pepper the Greenland ice sheet in summertime.”
The Times further reported:
By coincidence, Behar’s death came just three days before publication of the latest study on which he is a co-author — a detailed analysis of the melt-water rivers and moulin drains across a 2,000-square-mile portion of the vast Greenland ice sheet. The paper, “Efficient meltwater drainage through supraglacial streams and rivers on the southwest Greenland ice sheet,” was posted online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [January 12].
“This job is killing me“
The Times piece was written by Andrew C. Revkin, who expressed admiration for Behar and called him “a rare breed.”
“I’ve met only a handful of researchers with his mix of skills — most, as it happens, focused on the extreme environments at the poles,” Revkin wrote. “He’ll be sorely missed.”
Behar joins a growing list of other scientists and researchers who have recently died in mysterious circumstances, as tallied at .
They include, from the most recent deaths:
— John Rogers, a tropical disease expert with the National Institutes of Health. “Martin John Rogers was found ‘near’ his wrecked car down in an embankment in western Maryland on Thursday, September 4, 2014, after disappearing on August 21, 2014 when he left home for work at the world-renowned research center near Washington, D.C. No word yet on the cause of death…”
—Glenn Thomas, an AIDS and Ebola expert and spokesman for the World Health Organization. “Ebola expert Glenn Thomas was among the 298 people who were killed when Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down and crashed in Ukraine. It is understood he was one of more than 100 researchers who were aboard the flight on their way to an international Aids conference in Australia.”
—Mark Ferri, a nuclear engineer. “A renowned American engineer was found dead in his hotel room in Salford after his heart suddenly stopped working. Mark Ferri, 59, from Tennessee, had completed two degrees in engineering as well as an MBA before becoming a nuclear engineer. … It was said Mr Ferri had been under stress from his job. His wife, Michaela, told the inquest: ‘He said a number of times, this job is killing me.'”