January 21, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 8

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    Walter Wild, 44, Senior Research Associate

    Walter Wild, Senior Research Associate in Astronomy & Astrophysics at Chicago, died Monday, Jan. 11, while attending a lecture at the University. According to colleagues, he collapsed and died before paramedics could reach him. He was 44.

    Wild was one of the world’s experts on the mathematics of adaptive optics, a technique that allows ground-based telescopes to have the same resolution as telescopes in space.

    During the last 10 years, Wild had developed the software package now universally used by the military and astronomical communities to control their adaptive optics systems.

    Wild was an enthusiastic polymath who wrote papers not only on all aspects of adaptive optics, but also on subjects ranging from reformulations of general relativity equations to attacks on pseudoscientists. A lecturer as well, Wild delivered the Compton Lecture Series “Imaging Science” at the University’s Enrico Fermi Institute last year. Long after the lectures were formally over, Wild would talk to people who had attended the series, explaining new things and patiently answering their questions.

    Wild was keenly interested in fostering amateur astronomy and spent much of 1998 working with a team of amateurs to improve the 41-inch telescope at the University’s Yerkes Observatory.

    Born on the southwest side of Chicago in 1954, Wild was the only son of Walter and Helen Wild. His mother was interested in stars and encouraged her son’s interest in science and astronomy.

    Wild won a scholarship to the Illinois Institute of Technology to obtain his first degree and later earned a Ph.D. in optical sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson. After working in industry, he moved to the Phillips Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M., to help develop the then highly classified military program in adaptive optics. He moved to Chicago in 1991 to work with Edward Kibblewhite, Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics, in developing adaptive optics for astronomy.

    He was responsible for developing the control algorithms that formed the brains of the University’s adaptive optics system, and the software is now used on systems worldwide.

    Surviving Wild are his wife, Krystina, and a son, Matthew James.