Research scientist Yuri Chernyak dies at 60

Yuri Chernyak, an MIT research scientist, died unexpectedly Nov. 23 at his home in Waltham. He was 60 years old.

Chernyak, who worked in the laboratory of Professor Richard Cohen in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, taught mathematics and physics to undergraduates for many years in the MIT Concourse Program. He was the co-author, with Professor Robert Rose, of "Chicken From Minsk," a collection of brain teasers of the kind he used in teaching. The book has been published in 10 languages.

"Yuri provided the spice that conferred a unique flavor and character to our laboratory," Cohen said. "At our weekly laboratory meetings, he could be counted on to challenge concepts and propose new ideas in his typical animated and good-humored fashion. When a difficult mathematical or physics problem arose in the laboratory, Yuri was always the go-to person in terms of figuring out a solution because of his broad depth of knowledge in so many areas and his creative ability to solve problems."

Born in Moscow, Chernyak received his Ph.D. in mathematical physics in 1972 from Moscow State University and went on to become an associate professor there. In 1976, he applied for permission to emigrate with his family from the Soviet Union to the United States, which resulted in his being fired from his faculty position and prohibited from leaving the Soviet Union.

A refusenik for the next 13 years, Chernyak organized and led the Moscow scientific seminar for refusenik scientists and maintained covert communications among other refuseniks and their supporters in the West. During this period Chernyak submitted a research thesis and was awarded a second Ph.D. in physics from Tel Aviv University.

Chernyak came to MIT in 1990. He served as a mentor and advisor to many students and research fellows and as an advisor and consultant to a number of companies.

He leaves his wife, Natasha Chernyak; a son, Dimitri Chernyak of Santa Clara, Calif.; a daughter, Julia Chernyak of New York City; and a granddaughter Veronica Chernyak of Santa Clara.

A funeral was held Sunday, Nov. 27, at Stanetsky Memorial Chapels in Brookline.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 7, 2005 (download PDF).

Topics: Obituaries, Staff

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