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Back in graduate school I had already heard of Professor An Yin. Although we only crossed paths briefly a couple of times, exchanged a few emails, and got acquainted through some stories, I have always admired his enthusiasm, warmth, and academic accomplishments. This February I stopped by his office at ULCA but missed him. I thought there would be plenty of opportunities later… May An rest in peace and may his spirit stay with us。
早在读博时就听说尹安。 虽然只有一两次短暂的碰面, 几封电子邮件来往, 和几个听到的故事, 一直欣赏他的热忱开朗和学术成就。今年二月去UCLA找到他的办公室, 可惜未遇 , 还以为来日方长 … 愿他安息, 精神长存！李洁
Professor Yin An: My Mentor and Friend
July 16, 2023 at Peking University
When I first heard the news in the morning of July 13th Beijing time, I couldn’t believe it. As more and more news came in, I had no choice but to accept the reality, but I still truly didn’t want to believe it. Professor Yin An had suddenly left us. He was so young, so energetic, so full of love and creativity. He was at the peak of his career, and there were so many beautiful things in nature waiting for him to reveal to humanity.
I got to know Prof. An Yin through the IPACES organization. A faculty position in the U.S. is highly competitive, especially for Chinese graduates in the early days (in the 1980-90s). An Yin was the first Chinese student in geology (and perhaps in all fields of earth sciences) to secure a tenure-track faculty job, while Huawei Zhou was the first in geophysics. In 1999, initiated by Youxue Zhang and An Yin, IPACES was founded by a small group of overseas Chinese faculty, with the aim of promoting Chinese earth-science international collaboration, research, and education. I first met Prof. An Yin at the inaugural IPACES annual meeting held at Nanjing University in 2000. Since then, I have attended and gotten to know him and many other distinguished colleagues at IPACES-related events.
Since then, I have had the privilege of learning and discussing geology (especially regarding the Tibetan Plateau) with An in person on many occasions, and he was always responsive to emails, phone calls, and WeChat. His review article on the Himalayan-Tibetan orogeny (Annual Review, 2000) is one of the most highly cited papers in earth sciences (with over 6000 citations), which may be regarded as the bible of the Tibetan Plateau orogeny. In our chat, he humorously referred to it as a “long and stinky foot-binding cloth” (a phrase used by Chairman Mao for empty and meaningless articles). The truth is he was incredibly prolific. He wrote the review paper as if it was notes for himself. Similarly, he could turn notes into well-structured articles at ease.
In another paper, also published in 2000 (JGR with him as a sole author), he brilliantly used a simple mechanical model to infer that the mantle lithosphere must have been torn to create the rift system in Tibetan Plateau. When we later found the tearing structure from seismic images, I couldn’t help but deeply impressed by his exceptional abilities in observation, deduction, and imagination. In 2008-2009, An invited me to participate a multi-disciplinary proposal for the NSF continental dynamics program on Mongolia orogeny. His combination of profound geological insights and ability to generate physical hypotheses captivated me and it was a great honor to have the opportunity to work closely with him. Although the proposal was not successful, it did not dampen his enthusiasm for science. He kept moving on. In fact, many of his discoveries were accomplished without external funding support.
In the summer of 2019, I met with An in Beijing. At that time, I had already decided to relocate to China (Peking University). Little did I know that it would be our last meeting. We discussed the idea of writing a review on the Tibetan Plateau, combining both geophysics and geology. However, due to the pandemic and time constraints, we did not follow it through. The fact that this project was not completed will be a lifelong regret for me.
An possessed such charisma that one would instantly fall in love with him upon the first meeting. He spoke fast, talked loudly, and was humorous, playful, and full of ideas. Thus, it is no surprise that he was an exceptional mentor. In 2009, during the department seminar at UIUC, he stayed at my house. He immediately became a good friend to my son, who was genuinely thrilled by his pretentious tricks. After returning, he sent an email: “Say hi to the two kids. They are really adorable and take them to LA when you and your wife have the time.”
Professor An Yin fell on his battlefield, having fought his heart out until the final minute of life — on his beloved geology field trip, surrounded by the newest members among the thousands of students who benefited from his instruction. How heroic! How touching! Bro An, rest in peace!
我认识尹安是通过IPACES组织。 那个时候，中国的留学生要在美国大学找到教职并不容易。尹安是地质学（很可能是整个地学届）领域中的第一位，周华伟是地球物理学领域中的第一位。 1999年，在张有学和尹安的倡议下，IPACES由十几位海外教授发起成立，希望促进地球科学领域华人的国际合作、研究和教育。我第一次见到尹安教授是在2000年在南京大学举办的第一届IPACES年会上。自那以后，我参加了他和许多其他杰出的同事参与的IPACES相关活动，并结识了他们。
自那时起，我有幸在许多场合当面地跟尹安学习和讨论地质学（尤其是关于青藏），对电子邮件、电话和微信他也总是及时回应。他的喜马拉雅-青藏高原造山带的综述文章（Annual Review, 2000）是地球科学领域中引用最多的论文之一（超过6000次），可以说是关于青藏高原造山带的圣经。一次与他谈到这篇文章，他幽默地说它像“懒婆娘的裹脚,又长又臭”。他写论文就像给自己写笔记，或把笔记整理成论文，几乎随手就来，可谓是学术届中出口成章，“七步成诗”了。
在另一篇同样发表于 2000 年 JGR 的论文中（他是唯一作者），他巧妙地使用一个简单的力学模型，推断出青藏高原地幔岩石圈存在撕裂，从而造成高原的大间距裂谷系统。当后来我们从地震图像中看到岩石圈撕裂结构时，我为他的观察力和想象力所折服。2008-2009年，尹安邀请我参加了一项关于蒙古造山带的美国国家科学基金会大陆动力学多学科交叉的项目申请。他能很好地结合对地质学深刻的洞察力和构建物理假说的能力，这非常吸引我。能够与他密切合作是我极大的荣幸。虽然这项申请没有成功，但这并不影响他对科学的热情。他继续前进。事实上，他的许多发现都是在没有资助的情况下完成的。
尹安的魅力如此之大，以至于你第一次见到他就会立刻爱上他。 他说话快，声音洪亮，幽默、俏皮、充满想法。 因此，他成为一位伟大的导师也就不足为奇了。 2009年，他在UIUC我们系里给了个报告，期间住在我家。 他立即成为了我儿子的好伙伴，我儿子对他装傻的挑逗感到由衷的兴奋。 回去后，他发了一封电子邮件：“向两个孩子问好。 他们真的很可爱，当你和你的妻子有时间时，带他们来洛杉矶。”
Like others, I am still in deep shock and saddened by An’s passing!
I began to enjoy reading An’s papers relatively late, in the early ~ 2000’s, when I was about to study magmatic and metamorphic rocks associated with the origin and growth of the Greater Tibetan Plateau, but his name as a globally renowned geologist was already familiar to me a decade earlier. In the early January of 1999, I received an email from Zhang Youxue and Yin An inviting me to join a group effort in whatever ways that may help promote China’s Earth Science research. I was extremely honored because they two and others had (have) always been my admired scientists with well-established research reputations in the international Earth Science community. They were graduates from Peking University and University of Science and Technology of China with their PhD degrees from top US universities. That small group soon became what it is now the IPACES. Because I was in Australia and later in the UK, my academic calendar hardly matched that of the US, so I participated in very few of the IPACES major group activities in China’s summer times, but participated in other activities (e.g., “Summer Ocean Science Schools” or workshops, online discussions and some AGU gatherings). My email exchanges on Science and other things with An started then. I first met An in person a few times during my short 2-year tenure at University of Houston.
An’s humorous chats with warm spirits and smiling face are always vivid as if he were sitting in front of me when I am writing now! His scientific insights are amazing and his ability to synthesize huge and apparently unrelated data sets into coherent models is astonishing! He is truly intelligent, knowledgeable and capable! He is a scientific giant! His passing is a huge loss for our science, but his scientific contributions will be forever remembered and will continue to influence coming generations!
May An rest in peace! My thoughts are with An’s family and all of his friends!
On Christmas Day of 2009, An emailed me a 100+ pages manuscript on his new idea of a plate tectonic origin for Tharsis Rise on Mars. Earlier that year, I published a paper on a unified one-plume model for the origin of both the Crustal Dichotomy and Tharsis Rise. An asked me to comment on his paper with a different view on Tharsis. I joked how An may have just ruined my holiday break with his major paper. Well, as I started reading it, I really enjoyed his paper. I was deeply impressed with his extensive literature review on the topic. His criticism on tectonic interpretation of the Tharsis region was refreshing, although I had to admit that some of his discussions were a bit beyond my rudimentary understanding of Martian tectonics.
The winter break ended quickly and I started to get busy with my teaching before I received another email from An at the end of January — An asked for my comments! I organized my thoughts and sent him a long email with positive and negative comments. We exchanged a few more emails and ended with a long phone call to sort out several lines of arguments. An was brilliant in understanding my geodynamic and geophysical arguments and in his attempt to counter them. In our conversation, as I recalled, he also explained why he became interested in Mars and planetary sciences in general. He said his son did a science project on Mars which got him interested in Mars. He also said that he found increasingly more difficult to find places on the Earth to study tectonics. This is because he would always let his former mentees to independently continue their work in regions where they started the projects with him. As we all know, it is often difficult for a junior scientist to start a completely new project at a new location, and on the other hand, it is also crucial for her/him to demonstrate independence from former advisor. Therefore, what An did in yielding to his former mentees was very unselfish and supportive of junior scientists. It is not surprising that An was such a beloved and successful mentor.
I have had several other interesting interactions with An over the years, all through emails or at conferences on scientific issues. The last time we communicated was at an online Zoom seminar in the summer of 2022 in which An presented his work on how ice, as an agent, may have shaped the Martian surface. The idea and presentation were outstanding. After his presentation, An stayed on the Zoom with quite some young planetary enthusiasts to talk about Mars and the Moon, with me doing a bit sidekick. It was a lot of fun.
Although my knowledge on planetary sciences is rather limited, it is evident to me that An had been seriously and passionately engaged in the pursuit of studies of Martian geology and tectonics (and recently on Pluto/Charon and Enceladus), as he did for all the other scientific pursuits. With his creativity and deep knowledge on tectonics and geology, his work shed new light on planetary tectonics and geology. When An shifted his attention from the Earth to Mars because of his unselfishness and generosity to his former mentees, it was the Earth’s loss and Mars’ gain. Now with his untimely passing, An may have just wandered further up there. Of course, An has never really left the Earth, and his work and his smile will be always with us.
In deep mourning for Professor Yin An
On the evening of July 12, 2023 (Eastern Time, USA), I received a WeChat message from a Chinese academic, stating, “I was shocked to hear that Yin An passed away in the field due to a heart attack caused by high blood pressure. It’s such a pity; he was only 64 years old.”
At that moment, I couldn’t believe the news was true. In my impression, Yin An was in excellent health. He was the type of person who was full of enthusiasm and energy, so how could he suddenly be gone? Therefore, I went to a Geodynamics group where Yin An was also a member to see if anyone mentioned him. No one talked about him, and in my heart, I secretly hoped that the news of his passing was not true, as it would be hard to accept. However, I knew there might be a reason behind it; perhaps he encountered some health issues during his fieldwork, and he might be receiving treatment in the hospital. I wrote in the group, “Professor Yin An is in this group. Does anyone have news about him? I hope he is well!” But, a few minutes later, my hope was shattered by Professor Zhang Bo from Peking University, who sorrowfully mourned for Yin An.
I first met Yin An at the AGU conference in San Francisco in late 1991. A group of people from Mainland China arranged to have dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. During the dinner, we talked about the hardships of conducting geological work in the remote areas of North America. Compared to Westerners, we Chinese seemed to lack physical strength (our generation in Mainland China rarely consumed milk and beef during our growth and development), leading some to shift towards experimental and theoretical work. Yin An used himself as an example to “refute” this notion, saying that he could endure fieldwork better than foreigners. I carefully observed his robust physique, which impressed me deeply because I had recently felt physically inadequate during a field study in the uninhabited areas of northern Saskatchewan, Canada.
Yin An has now departed from Earth and ventured to the even more challenging Mars to study its tectonics.
Lastly, I request all geological colleagues reading this letter to take care of their health.
July 15, 2023
My deepest condolences to An Yin’s family, colleagues, and friends. Back in 1996, An and I talked about his plan to teach a hydrology class (yes, hydrology, it might be for filling in a teaching need). As a hydrogeologist, I thought at the time how audacious he was. Little did I know then this is perhaps just a part of who he is, an extraordinarily brilliant and devoted researcher and teacher. Over the years, I have always enjoyed conversations and encounters with An at conferences and gatherings. He will be greatly missed.
Im extremely saddened to hear of the passing of An Yin – a true geology legend. As a UCLA undergraduate from 1999-2003, An’s ESS 111 field mapping class in the Diligencia basin of the Orocopia Mountains was one of my most memorable and influential classes at UCLA. Besides him infamously driving us several miles past the wilderness boundary to an epic mapping site (getting a ticket on the final weekend trip of the class), An’s style of teaching for this course, which combined detailed field work, spending many overnight hours in the computer lab digitizing our maps in Illustrator, and presenting to the class a talk justifying our efforts, inspired me on my current career path at Cal Poly Pomona. I had the privilege of taking several courses with An and having him serve on my thesis committee during my master’s degree at UCLA (2007) and I highly value the knowledge he passed on. My last direct interaction with An was in Spring 2019, coincidentally meeting up in the Orocopia Mountains! For my advanced field mapping course at CPP, I returned with my own students to the Orocopia Mountains, and after setting up our campsite for the night (outside of the wilderness area), guess who rolls in? An Yin with his UCLA graduate mapping class! It was a nice reunion that I won’t forget-it felt like coming full circle, being out there teaching my own class and my former mentor. He will be greatly missed but his research work and the knowledge he passed on through teaching to future generations of students will live on!
Dr. Bryan P. Murray (UCLA BS 2003; MS 2007)
Professor An Yin of UCLA suddenly passed away in the field on July 12, 2023. The sad news was so shocking to me, leaving me still in disbelief to this day.
An and I both graduated from the Geology Department of Peking University, and he was junior by half year in school. We then both came to the US for graduate study. In graduate school in the US, An advanced so quickly and became a tenure-track assistant professor in 1988 when I was still working on my PhD degree. I remember him as the first Chinese student after cultural revolution getting a tenure-track position in the US. Since then, he has been my role model. His contributions have elucidated the tectonics of Tibetan Plateau. He also solved many tectonic problems in Asia. Furthermore, He ventured into planetary tectonics and proposed innovative and provocative models for Mars tectonics. Even though he had already received many awards, including the Donath Medal in 1994 and especially the prestigious Penrose Medal in 2022, I was still anticipating him receiving many more recognitions. It is so sad that he left us at the peak of his academic career, leaving behind many unfinished endeavors and causing infinite grief to his family and friends.
I have known An for decades, but I cannot recall our first meeting. Around the end of 1989 or early 1990, I drove from Caltech to UCLA to interview for a tenure-track position in An’s Dept. He warmly hosted me and we talked about research. This was the first time that I was impressed by the width of his knowledge, because I wasn’t very familiar with his research but he asked excellent questions about my research. At the end of the interview, he and several other professors accompanied me to the parking lot but I couldn’t find my car for a long time. It was so embarrassing. Eventually, I didn’t get the position, and hence lost the opportunity to work in the same Dept as An.
After I became an assistant professor at the University of Michigan in 1991, we discovered many common interests, especially our shared desire to help advance Earth science research in China to the forefront of the world. In 1999, we co-founded iPaces and participated and organized many academic activities in Chinese. An has a booming voice, and is passionate and persuasive. He is a true warrior and a natural leader. He was straightforward, unafraid of getting into controversies. During an academic meeting at Nanjing University in 2000, when some scholars there challenged plate tectonics, some of us responded politely with specific counter arguments. However, An just directly and bluntly stated that the challengers’ knowledge was outdated, winning applause from students. After the meeting, he and I edited a book together. The collaboration was enjoyable, ensuing both high quality and timely publication.
Most of my interactions with An were during academic conferences. Although our fields of expertise were different, An still help me scientifically a lot. During conferences, when I discussed my ideas with An, he would sometimes immediately point out the flaws in my approach. When he thought the work was good, he would generously praise it.
In the last couple of years, our communications touched upon the “China Initiative” and the difficult situation of Chinese professors in the US. To my surprise, An was also affected and investigated by his university. He felt it was like Cultural Revolution in China in 1960’s and 1970’s. However, An was confident of his innocence, and fearlessly defended himself against the investigation. Fortunately, UCLA quickly realized its mistake, and not only apologized to An, but also declared its intolerance for unfair treatment of Chinese professors. We didn’t meet during the COVID-19 pandemic, but hoped to have a good chat when we met next. Unfortunately, that next meeting will never come.
Prof. An Yin will always be missed and remembered.
Even though An and I shared the same years in Peking University, we didn’t know each other in those days: I was a graduate student in Geophysics, he was an undergraduate in Geology. Our life trajectory didn’t cross during that time.
Many years had passed, I first learnt An’s name from Dr. Walter Mooney of U.S. Geological Survey, who was serving the representative of the US-China collaboration protocol on earthquake science at that time. Walter highly appraised An’s work on Tibet tectonics on plateau uplift. I finally met An at the AGU annual meeting in San Francisco, and we chatted in depth on the idea of how to quantify uplift rate by using GPS survey to measure the lake shore evolution. I was immediately attracted by his solid background knowledge in geology and tectonics, and more impressed by his sharp thinking and quick absorption of new knowledge. It was a pity that we did not have the opportunity to materialize and execute that idea.
My last encounter with An was at the breakfast in the dining hall of China University of Geosciences in Beijing in summer 2019, we run into each other unexpectedly. He was in hurry to go to downtown for a meeting with Ding Zhongli, the leaser of Chinese Academy of Science. But we still have some time to chat over quite some topics in research, geology, and academic ethics. Our conversations were always dynamic, interesting, and full of different surprises.
An, rest in peace, and we all miss you.