Rice mourns loss of CAREER award-winning physicist

Assistant Professor Imambekov dies at age 30

Adilet Imambekov, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, died this week while mountain climbing in his home country of Kazakhstan. He was 30.

“We don’t know all the details yet, but apparently he was on Khan Tengri Mountain and died in his tent at an altitude of 17,300 feet,” Provost George McLendon said in an email to the Rice community July 18.

“An extremely talented condensed matter theorist, Adilet was recognized as one of the foremost experts on quantum systems in reduced dimensions at the interface of atomic and condensed matter physics, which has important theoretical and practical implications for our understanding of magnetism and superconductivity,” McLendon said.

Adilet Imambekov

Imambekov joined the Rice faculty in 2009 after serving two years as a postdoctoral researcher at Yale. His research focused on creating analytical tools that will help physicists define the motions of atomic particles in confined geometries. He had said his goal was to write equations to analyze the processes at the subatomic scale, particularly those in which structures are knocked out of equilibrium.

Imambekov’s talent and potential were evident from two very prestigious awards he received, McLendon said. In 2010 he was awarded a Sloan Research Fellowship, which supports and recognizes young scientists. And last year he received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, which supports research by young scientists expected to become leaders in their field. Part of that award entailed advising undergraduate students at Rice and developing a graduate course on the physics of ultracold atoms and an open-access website that collects online instruction materials for high school teachers and students.

“With a B.S. in physics and applied mathematics from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and a Ph.D. in physics from Harvard University, Adilet pushed himself to the limits in everything he did,” McLendon said.

In addition to being an accomplished theoretician who specialized in quantum mechanical condensed matter, Adilet was an avid marathoner, triathlete, cyclist and mountain climber. He won a gold medal in 1998 at the International Physics Olympiad in Reykjavik, Iceland. He climbed the 24,757-foot Muztagh Ata, the second highest of the mountains that form the northern edge of the Tibetan Plateau in China. And he recently came in first place in a national Ironman-length triathlon.

“Adilet was one of the most brilliant people that I have ever met,” said Tom Killian, professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “He was very collaborative and interacted with many experimentalists and theorists across campus. While accomplishing so much scientifically, he also had an intense passion for life that inspired us all. He will be greatly missed.”

The burial will take place this weekend in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

“Our condolences go out to Adilet’s wife, Aigerim Kabdiyeva, who is a Rice graduate student in economics, their two children and Adilet’s colleagues and students at Rice,” McLendon said.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy plans to have a memorial service for Imambekov this fall when students and faculty are back on campus.


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