10 Notable Scientists and Engineers We've Lost to COVID-19

The deaths of these noted scientists and engineers is creating a void in our knowledge base.
Marcia Wendorf
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According to the website worldometer, at the time of this writing, 226,790 people worldwide have died from COVID-19. However, that number doesn't tell the whole story.

While people from all walks of life have been killed by the virus, a number of the world's greatest scientists and engineers have also been killed, taking with them irreplaceable scientific knowledge and expertise. We'd like to give names and faces to these precious few. Below are ten people we've lost much too soon.

1. Aeronautical Engineer Richard Passman - 94

Richard Passman attended the University of Michigan, where he received a B.S. in aeronautical engineering, a B.S. in mathematics, and an M.S. in aeronautical engineering in 1947.

Richard Passman
Richard Passman, Source: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum/Wikimedia Commons

After graduation, Passman went to work at Bell Aircraft, which was then building the Bell X-1. This was the first aircraft to fly faster than the speed of sound, or Mach 1 which is around 770 mph (1,239 km/h).


On October 14, 1947, test pilot Chuck Yeager flew the X-1 into the record books, and Tom Wolfe's book and director Philip Kaufman's 1983 film, The Right Stuff, marvelously depicts this flight.

Passman became chief aerodynamicist for the X-1's successor, the X-2. The X-2's successor, the X-3, reached Mach 3.196 or 2,094 mph (3,370 km/h) on September 27, 1956.

Moving on to General Electric, Passman worked on methods used to shield vehicles from the tremendous heat generated during re-entry from orbit. He also worked on the Corona project, and on heat shielding for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Following his retirement, Passman, along with Dr. John D. Anderson who was the aerodynamics curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, wrote the book X-15: The World's Fastest Rocket Plane and the Pilots Who Ushered in the Space Age.

X-15 book
X-15 book, Source: John Anderson, Richard Passman/Amazon

2. Mathematician Dr. John Horton Conway - 82

John Conway received his Ph.D. in 1964 from the University of Cambridge. He went on to teach at Cambridge and in just one year, 1969 to 1970, Conway discovered what became known as a Conway Group, which inhabits a 24-dimensional space, surreal numbers, and he invented The Game of Life.

Dr. John Conway
Dr. John Conway, Source: Thane Plambeck/Wikimedia Commons

The much-loved mathematical games columnist for Scientific American magazine, Martin Gardner, once said that at the peak of The Game of Life's popularity, over one-fourth of the world's computers were playing the game.

In 1985, Conway, along with four other authors, published The ATLAS of Finite Groups, which is a pillar of the mathematical field of group theory.

With one of his graduate students, Conway published the Monstrous Moonshine Conjecture, which prophesied an elusive symmetry group within 196,883 dimensions. In 1998, another graduate student of Conway's, Richard Borcherds, received the prestigious Fields Medal for a proof of this conjecture.

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Moving to Princeton University in 1987, Conway was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992, accepting this honor while wearing green running shorts.

3. Archaeologist Iris Love - 86

Born into an aristocratic New York family, Iris Love was raised primarily by a British governess who was a classicist. Love came to speak Greek, Latin, French, German, Italian, and Turkish.

Statue of Aphrodite
Statue of Aphrodite, Source: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons

Love graduated from Smith College, received a master's degree from NYU, and finished all her Ph.D. classes but did not write a thesis. While still a graduate student, she made headlines when she pronounced a group of Etruscan warriors displayed at New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art as forgeries.

While visiting the British Museum, Love was granted access to works stored in the basement, and she promptly identified one as being Praxiteles' lost statue of the goddess Aphrodite.

Love's social connections allowed her to raise funds for what became an 11-year-long dig at the ancient Greek city of Knidos, which is now part of Turkey. It was there that she discovered a temple to the Greek goddess, Aphrodite.

In her later years, Love became a champion dachshund dog breeder, and a number of her dogs won the Westminster Kennel Club championship. She liked to name her dogs after figures in Greek mythology, such as Achilles and Tyche.

4. Climate Scientist Dr. John Houghton - 88

Welsh climate scientist Dr. John Houghton received a Ph.D. in atmospheric, oceanic, and planetary physics from Oxford University in 1955. He went on to teach at the university before going to work at NASA.

Dr. John Houghton
Dr. John Houghton, Source: Wikimedia Commons

There, he worked on the remote sensing instruments that allowed Nimbus satellites to study earth's atmosphere. This led to insights into the earth's weather systems and the environment.

From 1983 to 1991, Dr. Houghton was Director-General of the UK's Meteorological Office, and in 1990, he helped create Britain's Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research.

However, it was Houghton's participation in founding the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that really marked his career. Houghton was Lead Editor on the group’s first three reports published in 1990, 1995, and 2001. In 2007, the IPCC received the Nobel Peace Prize along with former U.S. vice president, Al Gore.

5. Neurobiologist Dr. Donald Kennedy - 88

Donald Kennedy received bachelor's and master's degrees and a Ph.D. from Harvard University in biology. In 1960, he joined the faculty at Stanford University and almost never left.

Dr. Donald Kennedy
Dr. Donald Kennedy, Source: US_FDA/Twitter

Kennedy went on to become the university's provost, then president of the university in 1980. During his term, Stanford expanded with new campuses in Oxford, Kyoto, and Washington D.C.

Kennedy was president of the university during the antiwar protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and he oversaw the school's divestiture of its holdings in companies doing business with South Africa.

In 1977, Kennedy temporarily left Stanford to serve as head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under President Jimmy Carter. After retiring from Stanford, Kennedy became the editor-in-chief of Science, the weekly journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

6. AIDS Researcher Dr. Gita Ramjee - 63

After earning her Ph.D. from the University of Natal in Durban, South Africa, Dr. Gita Ramjee accepted a position in a research project that was trying to determine how to treat Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which was then ravaging South Africa.

Dr. Gita Ramjee
Dr. Gita Ramjee, Source: UNAIDS

Ramjee recognized that South Africa's approach to AIDS — abstinence, being faithful, and using condoms — was not enough, and she pushed for newer approaches. Ramjee went on to become the chief scientific officer at the Aurum Institute in Johannesburg, which deals with AIDS and tuberculosis.

7. Pediatric Neurosurgeon Dr. James Goodrich - 73

Dr. James Goodrich studied neurosurgery and psychobiology at the University of California and Columbia University before joining the staff at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York.

Goodrich went on to become director of pediatric neurosurgery at the hospital, and in the early 2000s, he became well known by successfully separating conjoined twins Clarence and Carl Aguirre, who were joined at the tops of their heads.

Over a series of four surgeries, Dr. Goodrich disconnected shared blood vessels and even brain tissue. In 2016, Dr. Goodrich led a team of 40 surgeons conducting a 27-hour procedure to separate another set of twin boys.

8. Modernist Architect Vittorio Gregotti - 92

Vittorio Gregotti got his architecture degree from the Polytechnic University of Milan. In 1974, Gregotti formed his own firm, Gregotti Associatti International, and he went on to serve as the editor-in-chief of the Italian architecture magazine Casabella and taught architecture at several universities.

Vittorio Gregotti
Vittorio Gregotti, Source: Adriano Alecchi/Wikimedia Commons

Gregotti is best known for his renovation of the iconic Barcelona Olympic Stadium in advance of the 1992 Olympic games, which were hosted there. He chose to preserve the outside of the building while completely renovating its interior.

Gregotti went on to build the Teatro degli Arcimboldi opera house and concert hall in Milan, Italy, and the Shanghai suburb of Pujiang New Town.

9. Allergist Dr. William Frankland - 108

The next time you see a pollen count being displayed on the nightly news, you can thank Dr. William Frankland who, amazingly, was still publishing scientific papers at the time of his death.

Dr. William Frankland
Dr. William Frankland, Source: Walker2721/Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Frankland received his medical degree from Queen's College, Oxford before enlisting in the Royal Army Medical Corps just days before the start of World War II. Posted to Singapore, he soon became a prisoner of war.

Following the war, Frankland pioneered the use of allergen injections to desensitize patients with allergies. For hay fever sufferers, he created immunotherapy serums made from pollen collected from his own farm.

While studying insect allergies, Dr. Frankland allowed himself to be bitten multiple times by a nasty looking South American insect named the Rhodnius prolixus. Following the eighth bite, he went into anaphylaxis, and it was only the fast thinking by a nurse that saved him.

One of Dr. Frankland's best-known patients was former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, who thought he had allergies but really had a two-pack-a-day smoking habit. Dr. Frankland convinced him to quit.

Dr. Frankland published over 100 academic papers and articles, including four that he wrote after the age of 100. In 2015, he was named a member of the Order of the British Empire.

10. Pulmonologist Dr. John Murray - 92

In perhaps the cruelest twist of fate, Dr. John Murray died of acute respiratory distress syndrome, the very disease that he had helped define, that was brought on by the coronavirus.

Dr. Murray received his medical degree from Stanford University before beginning to teach at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1966, Dr. Murray moved back to San Francisco and to what is now known as the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. There, he became chief of pulmonary and critical care.

Murray authored the well-known text Murray & Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine, and for a general audience, he authored the books Intensive Care: A Doctor’s Journal, and How Aging Works: What Science Can Do About It.

While the full extent of the losses caused by COVID-19 has yet to be totaled up, there is no doubt that the loss of these great minds, and hearts, will continue to be felt down through the years.

We have created an interactive page to demonstrate engineers’ noble efforts against COVID-19 across the world. If you are working on a new technology or producing any equipment in the fight against COVID-19, please send your project to us to be featured.