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1949 Thomas 2023

Thomas Joseph Weiler

May 5, 1949 — December 17, 2023



Thomas Joseph Weiler, professor emeritus of physics, passed away peacefully on December 17, 2023, at the age of 74, after enduring a progressive neurodegenerative variant of Parkinson’s disease.  Tom was born on May 5, 1949, in St. Louis, Missouri, to Patricia R. (O’Meara) and Dr. Joseph T. Weiler.


It is a challenge to describe Tom’s colorful life.  His childhood stories reveal an exuberant boy who shared adventures with his brother, sister, and friends, as the Weiler family moved from St. Louis to Excelsior Springs, Missouri, to Hot Springs, South Dakota, to Lincoln, Nebraska, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as his father accepted dentistry positions at the Veterans Hospitals in these locations.  Tom had remained in touch with several of those grade school and high school friends throughout his entire life and into his final weeks.  That he was a gifted scholar was soon evident during his early schooling and high school years, and it was the demonstration of a cloud chamber in his middle school years that sparked his interest in physics.  He claimed that he had always wanted to be a cowboy, but chose the scientific path instead, graduating from Stanford University in physics with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1971, and obtaining his PhD in particle physics in 1976, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He continued his studies through postdoctoral appointments at Liverpool University, England (1976-78), Northeastern University in Boston, MA (1978-81), and the University of California, San Diego (1982-84).  In 1984, he joined the faculty in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, and remained there until his retirement in 2019, as Professor Emeritus.


Tom’s list of numerous awards and accolades include the Department of Energy (DoE) Outstanding Junior Investigator (1985-1988); Fellow of the American Physical Society, Division of Particles and Fields (since 2002); Invited by Swedish Academy to nominate for the Nobel Prize (2003 and 2008); Distinguished Alumni Fellow Award, University of Wisconsin Physics Department (2006); Alexander von Humboldt Senior Research Career Award (2008); Elected member of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (FNAL) Board of Directors (2001-2008); invited speaker at TEDx Nashville, Tennessee (2012); a Simons Foundation Fellow in Theoretical Physics for his work with elemental particle physics and astrophysics (2014-15).


Tom loved to travel.  Through his scholarly appointments as a visiting professor, during sabbatical years, or through awards such as the Simon Award and the Humboldt Scholarship, he travelled extensively.  He enjoyed mentoring graduate students and treasured collaborations with colleagues throughout the physics world.  Over 200 publications speak to his continual desire to learn more about neutrinos and other elementary particles and to share that learning through lectures, symposia, appointments (e.g., Board of Directors at Fermi Lab), and esoteric scribbles on napkins.


Perhaps more than lists of publications and awards and honors is the list of moving comments sent to the family by Tom’s friends and colleagues that speak of Tom as a person who touched their lives: “He will be remembered for his fundamental contributions to neutrino physics and applications to astrophysics.”  “He was a great scientist, colleague, and friend.”  “He was a wonderful person, supportive, clever, witty, inspiring, and always fun to be with.”  “He was always good to talk to about physics or any subject.”  “He was an eminent physicist and always fun to discuss new ideas with.”  “Tom was a talented scientist, a character, and a gentleman.”


He is survived by his son, Daniel Bowater (St. Louis, Missouri), his sister Terry Ann Gaffney (Seattle, Washington), his brother William M. Weiler (Madison, Wisconsin; wife, Molly), nephews Thomas Gaffney (Seattle, Washington) and Matthew Weiler (Phoenix, Arizona), and nieces Colleen Gaffney (husband, Justin Scheild, Seattle, Washington), Erin Calderon (daughter, Violeta, Madison, Wisconsin), and Laura Zollner (husband Matthew Zollner and daughters, Sarah and Meghan, Needham, Massachusetts); and stepchildren Nicole Hermo-Danielson (husband, Dane Danielson and son, Luca Danielson, Nashville, Tennessee), and Christian Hermo (Nashville, Tennessee).


Tom’s family would like to thank Agrace for the wonderful and loving supportive care that they provided during Tom’s final months of life.  The family would also like to thank Tom’s friends and colleagues who stayed in touch with him during his final 20 months in Madison, Wisconsin.  Tom treasured those visits, calls, emails, and texts even though it became increasingly difficult for him to reply.  A special shout out to Tom’s friend and physics colleague, Francis Halzen.  He visited Tom at his assisted living facility consistently on weekends when he was available.  They would chat about physics, the universe, and, of course, those elusive neutrinos.


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