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Istituto italiano di astrofisica - national institute for astrophisics

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Olivier Le Fevre - in memoriam

On June 25, the astronomer Olivier Le Fevre passed away

European astronomy mourns the loss of one of its main personalities.

At the age of 59, Olivier Le Fevre passed away on June 25 in his house close to Marseille.

Olivier, former Director of the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille in France, has been a pioneer of spectroscopic extragalactic surveys, and a world leader in the study of birth and evolution of galaxies, as well as of how they are distributed at very large scales in the Universe.

Born and grown up as an observational astronomer, he loved to follow every aspect of astronomy: from the conception of innovative instruments to interpretation of data, not disregarding the development of advanced methods for data analysis and the comparison with novel theoretical  models.

In the nineties Olivier led the French-Italian consortium which built VIMOS  (an acronym for VIsible Multi-Object Spectrograph) for the European Very Large Telescope, one of the very first instruments to be developed for an 8-m class telescope. VIMOS has been used by Olivier’s team and by many scientists all across the world to obtain invaluable data on the nature of galaxies across the various epochs of the Universe, on how the largest structures in the Universe were formed, and on the fundamental nature of the Universe and its most elusive constituents, Dark Matter and Dark Energy.

His guidance and leadership have been decisive in fostering the development of other world-class instrumentation, like the NIRSPEC spectrograph that will be soon launched with the JWST satellite, the Prime Focus Spectrograph at the Subaru Telescope and – last but not least – the ESA Euclid mission that will be launched in 2022 and will be a fundamental step toward constraining the nature of Dark Energy.

Olivier has been among the first to realize that astronomy needed to enter the age of “Big Science”. He led the transformation of the field by building and leading big collaborations made of hundreds of scientists and engineers all working together toward a common goal. The projects and surveys he led were carried out not only with his beloved “kid” VIMOS (among which we remember the VIMOS-VLT Deep Survey and the VIMOS Ultra Deep Survey), but also with other instrumentation from ground and space and across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, like the ongoing ALPINE project with the ALMA radio interferometer.

These surveys, combined with others, have transformed the field in the last 20 years, revealing and consolidating the current scenario that describes the birth and evolution of structures in the Universe – arguably one of the most important discoveries of modern science.

Olivier had a special relationship with many Italian scientists. VIMOS first and many other instruments and surveys thereafter have been made through extensive collaboration with Italian teams. The community of Italian extragalactic astronomers wouldn’t be as competitive and vibrant as it is today without the friendly and fruitful collaborations with Olivier and his team during the last 30 years.

We all remember his incredible passion. Whatever enterprise he endeavored he was motivated by the desire to solve a fundamental scientific problem. He has continuously pushed his collaborators and students to attack new problems, deliver results, open new projects and avenues. No hurdle was deemed too high. Olivier had a special gift in maintaining the team focused and engaged toward the ambitious goals that he established for his projects.

Countless students and young researchers are indebted to him for his mentoring and help in the early phases of their career.

Apart from professional achievements, Olivier was first of all a good friend to many of us. We have all enjoyed skiing, biking, swimming, dancing or just chatting and laughing with him, because he loved life in all its aspects. We have admired his contagious passion in whatever he did, and his deep love for his daughters and his family at large.

We will all miss him deeply and we are as close as possible to those who loved him most and to the French astronomical community for this untimely loss.

Nichi D'Amico

President of the National Institute for Astrophysics, on behalf of the INAF personnel
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