Courant Mourns the Loss of Professor Aleks Donev

Courant Institute grieves the loss of Professor Aleksandar Donev. He was a driving presence at the Institute. For many of us he was a colleague, an inspiration, a mentor and a friend.

Aleks grew up in North Macedonia during the Balkan wars. At age 17 his academic brilliance brought him to the attention of a Peace Corp volunteer whose mother ran a program for international students at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, a small town in northern New York State. He soon transferred to Michigan State University in East Lansing, where he graduated at the top of his class in Physics. He earned a PhD in Applied and Computational Mathematics from Princeton University under the guidance of Sal Torquato in 2006. His thesis work concerned packing of hard elliptical particles. Informally, M&Ms pack more densely than spheres.

He did postdoctoral research first at Lawrence Livermore laboratory and then at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. By the time he joined the Courant faculty in 2010 he had developed a career-long interest in modeling the effect of thermal noise in physical systems, particularly gasses, liquids, colloids and cross linked networks of actin filaments. He was to become perhaps the world’s leading expert in this area, through his broad scholarship, interdisciplinary collaborations, and determined innovations. His creative output and collaboration continued until his tragic death last month.

His energy and passion influenced the Courant Institute not only through his scientific work, but also through his mentoring and his efforts to improve the scientific environment and the training of students. He was a lead PI on an NSF-RTG grant to create a Research Training Group in Mathematical Modeling and Simulation, and began an inclusive seminar where graduate students could participate as equals. He helped developed and teach classes where students learned scientific writing and communication skills, and he helped create a vibrant summer research program for undergraduates. He was a driving force in our active DEI study group, and as an openly queer professor was a role model for those around him.

We mourn the loss of a colleague and friend.