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05/01/2012 07:00:00

Caltech Mourns the Passing of Jay Heefner

Jay Wilson Heefner II, an electrical engineer who contributed greatly to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) project over the course of 18 years at Caltech, has died. He was 51.

Before arriving at Caltech in 1994, Heefner had worked on the Superconducting Super Collider and the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility project, and at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

In 1983, he graduated summa cum laude from the University of the Pacific (UOP), where he was named the outstanding electrical engineering graduate and was elected to UOP's chapter of Phi Kappa Phi. In 1987, he became the first person to receive a masters degree in electrical engineering at UOP.

Heefner was known by colleagues as a knowledgeable engineer who took on challenges with a smile. Dennis Coyne, chief engineer for LIGO Laboratory, wrote in a tribute to Heefner: "From the start I was impressed by Jay's speed, productivity, and creativity. Over time I came to respect him not just for his technical prowess but also for his 'can do' spirit and generous nature. There was never a problem too difficult for Jay. He was always willing to help others, despite how busy he was. He was a great mentor to many of us."

Heefner succumbed to colon cancer after a year-long battle with the disease. He is survived by his wife, Alice, and his three children, Heather, Leah, and Max. His family has set up a memorial website at

Written by Kimm Fesenmaier