Engineering graduate student Derek Tat passed away on Friday in a traffic accident.
Tat, 24, came to the University in January to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering. He had previously received degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley and had worked in the private sector.
Cynthia Chestek, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, worked closely with Tat in a laboratory setting, researching brain control and prosthetic care. Chestek said she was excited to begin working with Tat even before he arrived, saying he was the strongest applicant she had ever encountered.
“I had never seen an application like that,” she said. “I was so excited when he decided to come to my lab.”
According to Chestek, Tat was a dedicated and passionate researcher, frequently working overtime in the lab. He also took on demanding course load in addition to his research.
Chestek said she was devastated by Tat’s death, noting he was a good person and friend as well as an enthusiastic lab assistant. She said his intense focus and minimalist approach to life could serve as inspiration for everyone — to take every minute for what it’s worth.
Chestek said Tat planned to graduate early and eventually become a professor focusing on robotic control and prosthetics. He had also written several papers on his research, which Chestek hopes will be published posthumously.
“There was no question he was going to be immensely successful,” she said. “We were shocked.”
Jennifer J. Linderman, associate dean for graduate education in the College of Engineering, sent an e-mail to inform the college community of his passing.
“The community is certainly reacting with shock and sadness over his death,” Linderman wrote. “It was a terrible, terrible accident and our sympathies go out to the family.”
The College of Engineering hosted a ceremony to honor Tat’s life Monday evening. Tat’s parents and sister joined the community for the ceremony.
A memorial service will also be held in the coming weeks.
“He was incredibly talented, incredibly hardworking, and incredibly generous with his time,” Linderman wrote. “People describe him as a real leader. He was really going places.”