On 15 May, the heartbreaking news has reached us: a physicist, educator and public figure Dr. Audrius Alkauskas passed away at the age of 46. He was a scientist whose talent, erudition and warmth left no one indifferent.
Dr. Mažena Mackoit-Sinkevičienė, a member of Center for Physical Sciences and Technology (FTMC), who knew him closely, shares her memories of her beloved colleague and friend, A. Alkauskas. Audrius was not only the scientific supervisor of her dissertation, the founder of the Puntukas research group, but also, as Mažena writes, a true family member.
Eight years ago, I joined the newly formed research group led by Audrius Alkauskas.
When I first met the smiling Audrius, I thought: "Wow, so such brilliant scientists do really exist?" Audrius brought with him a freedom from the West, an American dream, a boldness and drive that I had never seen in Lithuania before.
He gave his research group the modest name "Puntukas", emphasising his love for his beautiful homeland - Anykščiai. This was another indicator of his noble heart.
Lukas Razinkovas, Vytautas Žalandauskas and Rokas Silkinis - members of the FTMC Puntukians, members of the Electronic Structure Theory Laboratory - will admit that in our laboratory we were all a bit more than colleagues, we were like a family. Audrius took care of all of us, took an interest in us as individuals, and supported us at all moments.
(Dr. Audrius Alkauskas (left) together with members of the research group he founded "Puntukas". Photo from the archive of Dr. M. Mackoit-Sinkevičienė)
He also put a lot of effort into making sure that we grew as independent scientists and spread our wings as widely as possible. He was an excellent supervisor: demanding in terms of quality, depth and clarity of thought, both in giving oral presentations and in writing scientific papers. He constantly reiterated that fluent language, clear structure and the right choice of words are extremely important when sharing one's scientific results.
The most memorable attitude that Audrius instilled in all of us was this: "Remember, we are not focused on the quantity of scientific papers, but on their quality. Science must be of high quality. You have to write a PhD thesis that you will be proud to read again when you are old."
This is well reflected in his works, articles and books. Audrius constantly encouraged his colleagues not to stay in their laboratories and to broaden their horizons, to discuss, and this is how he initiated the largest series of Semiconductor Seminars at Sunrise (district of Vilius), which gathered together the whole FTMC community.
(Dr. Audrius Alkauskas, Dr. Mažena Mackoit-Sinkevičienė and Dr. Lukas Razinkovas. Photo from the archive of Dr. M. Mackoit-Sinkevičienė)
Audrius and Lukas had a special bond; they could stare at the blackboard for hours together and work out formulas, fiercely debating their validity and smiling at the same time. It was as if they were transported from the classroom to the world of ideas. Thanks to their long and painstaking work, Lukas and Audrius proved to peer reviewers and the scientific community in one of their studies that what seemed impossible to do truly was possible.
Audrius thoroughly enjoyed working with the students. He once took a group of us to Kaunas University of Technology to listen to and evaluate his students' presentations. He was very proud of them. One of those students, Rokas, later became a member of our group. Meanwhile Vytautas met Audrius through the choir. It was through music that they were led towards physics problems, and this is how Vytautas also joined the Puntukas laboratory. Often, they would walk down the corridors humming various musical passages and instantly switch to physics.
Audrius kept a strict daily discipline and used every spare minute of his free time purposefully. His work schedule was packed with time for science, choir, quizzes (which he usually won), reading fiction (he hosted book club meetings and discussions), teaching, basketball, playing guitar and even running.
(Dr. Audrius Alkauskas. Photo: FTMC)
During one such run, he had the idea of carbon dimers in boron nitride. It's hard to imagine, but it was during the run that Audrius solved the long-standing mystery of quantum light in this two-dimensional material, and it was up to us to do the maths and test the veracity of this brilliant idea. I remember that on the day when he was inspired to tell us about this, we all celebrated together in the canteen.
Audrius was full of creativity, drive, educated across the whole spectrum of erudition and intelligence: from knowledge of languages and history, music and poetry, to anticipating politics and the world's scientific trends. Mrs Vida, Audrius's mother, instilled in him a love of plants. Every morning he took care of his plants. Everyone will agree that Audrius' office is one of the most beautiful in our FTMC institution. It was in his office that we often gathered to receive the Nobel Prize winners in Physics.
He made me see how the science is really born.
(Dr. Audrius Alkauskas and Dr. Mažena Mackoit-Sinkevičienė. Photo: FTMC)
This is a very painful loss for our entire scientific community. The Puntukas family has lost its Founder, a wonderful scientist, a dear colleague and an even dearer friend Audrius Alkauskas.
Dear Audrius, you instilled in us that true Love for Science and Physics, full of creativity and vocation. Thank you for everything, for your support, your advice, your music, your poetry, thank you for your Friendship. I am immensely grateful to Fate that we have had the opportunity to know You, to work with You and to learn from You. Now the Puntukas Stone is in our hearts.
Dear Audrius, we have grown very attached to You and loved You very much. May you discover your Light and rest in peace.