Obituary Ivars Knets
Here I would like to share a personal memory. It is 1989 and I am in Gainesville (FL) working at the university of Florida with Alì Seireg, who had been recently appointed, one of the first Americans to have this honour, member of USSR Academy of Science. Back from one of his trips to Moscow, Alì hands me a book written in Russian, which reported the result of bone mass loss and related loss of mechanical strength in the skeleton of mice exposed to weightlessness; one of the authors was Ivars. My Russian is non-existent, I guess a few things from graphs and equations, but a lot escapes me.
Fast forward to 1992; the Berlin wall went down three years before, but Latvia had become formally an independent country only on 21 August 1991. The European Commission launched a new funding programmed, called TEMPUS, aimed to promote the institutional cooperation between the EU and Countries of Eastern Europe, focused on the reform and modernisation of higher education systems. I get involved in one of these projects, led on the EU side by Prof John Middleton, at that time at the University of Swansea, and on the Latvian side by Ivar; so, I finally have the opportunity to meet in person one of the authors of that book, and get some more details on this piece of work that had never been published in English.
At the time Ivars was roughly about my age now; he was a tall, athletic, good looking man and his knowledge of solid mechanics was impressive. He was also fighting an impossible battle as Latvia was exiting from the USSR era. In the old days Riga Technical University was a key centre of the Russian space program, had considerable resources, and a massive prestige. But with the dissolution of the USSR, and the transformation to a market economy, many academics left their jobs to catch opportunities in the emerging private market. Those were difficult times, full of hope, and also of full of challenges. But he managed to keep his research group together and handle this massive transformation.
After the end of the TEMPUS project we stayed in touch, and we met regularly at biomechanics meetings, especially those of the European Society of Biomechanics. He was always positive, and supportive as I struggled to develop my own carrier.
Godspeed old friend. Enjoy the weightlessness of heavens.
Prof Marco Viceconti, University of Bologna