The Passing of Dr. Zijie Yan ’11

It is with deep sadness that I write to inform you of the passing of Dr. Zijie Yan ’11. Dr. Yan was an associate professor of applied physical sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a graduate of Rensselaer’s Ph.D. program in materials engineering. On August 28, Dr. Yan was the victim of a tragic shooting on the UNC campus.

As the communities of which he was a member grieve, we can reflect on Dr. Yan’s life and accomplishments. After graduating from RPI, he did postdoctoral work at the University of Chicago and was then an assistant professor at Clarkson University, where he was awarded the John W. Graham Jr. Faculty Research award, before joining the faculty at Chapel Hill. His own stated goal was “to transcend the boundary between photonics and materials science by developing new techniques to control light-matter interactions at the nanometer scale.” His research was well-regarded and widely cited.

Faculty who worked alongside Dr. Yan at RPI remember him as bright, curious, and hardworking, for which he was awarded the Rensselaer Founders Award of Excellence in 2011. 

“Zijie was a brilliant student, easy-going and always with a big smile, and he had grown into a rising star in his field at UNC. It is such a tragedy for his family, and a huge loss for the materials research community,” said Dr. Yunfeng Shi, professor of materials science and engineering at RPI. “It is so shocking that violence has taken someone I knew well. This happened on the first day of class, and I had actually just been telling my current class my experience of teaching at RPI for the first time in 2008, in which Zijie was one of the students. College campuses need to be safe, open, and welcoming for students to grow and ideas to emerge, with academic rigor to safeguard our collective future.” 

This is a sudden and senseless loss, and it is natural for those who knew Dr. Yan, and for those who work in similar environments, to be upset. Counseling and grief services are available for students through the Rensselaer Counseling Center, including for those student communities directly affected. An appointment can be made by contacting the Student Health Center at (518) 276-6479. Faculty and staff seeking counseling and grief support may contact the Employee Assistance Program by calling (800) 327-2251.

In addition, chaplains are available to provide grief counseling and support for anyone in the Rensselaer community. To make an appointment with a chaplain, you may call the Religious Affairs office at (518) 276-6518.

On behalf of the Institute, I extend my condolences to Dr. Yan’s friends, family, and colleagues, both at Rensselaer and throughout the community of scholars. The RPI family is generational and globe-spanning, and the loss of any one of us is felt by all. I know that you will look out for each other, now and going forward.

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