Nathan Krasnopoler, Johns Hopkins University student, dies at 20

Bicycle enthusiast had been studying computer science and mathematics

(Dustin McKibben )
August 19, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Sun reporter

At funeral services for Nathan Krasnopoler held at Sol Levinson and Bros. Funeral Home on Aug. 12, the 20-year-old was remembered by a Johns Hopkins University professor for his "keen and incisive intellect."

Mr. Krasnopoler died Aug. 10 at Gilchrist Center in Columbia from a severe irreversible brain injury that he sustained Feb. 20 after being hit by a motorist while riding his bicycle on West University Parkway near the Hopkins Homewood campus.

"Nathan was very bright, very creative and very self-motivated," said Edward R. Scheinerman, professor in the Johns Hopkins University Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics, who is also vice dean of engineering education at the Whiting School of Engineering.

"As fascinating and far-ranging as Nathan's interests were, they don't begin to describe the depth of a young man … who skillfully articulated his cherished beliefs, and who had a circle of devoted and loving friends," Dr. Scheinerman said in his eulogy.

"Nathan had wide-ranging interests, including healthy eating, urban foraging, pen and paper games, and science fiction. Nathan was confident, self-assured and outspoken," he said.

Mr. Krasnopoler was born in Columbia and raised in Ellicott City.

"He excelled at math at an early age and began reading in the first grade," said his father, Mitchell Krasnopoler, a chemical engineer.

By the time he was 10 and a middle school student, he had programmed his calculator so he could play chess.

"He was also an avid reader, I remember when we were hiking at Yosemite, he'd pull out a book when we stopped to rest," said his mother, Susan Cohen, an attorney. "He even took a book to his senior prom in case he got bored."

Mr. Krasnopoler was a 2009 graduate of Shoshana S. Cardin High School.

By the time he had arrived at the Northwest Baltimore high school, he had exhausted the math curriculum, said Ian Blumenfeld, his math teacher there for three years.

"He was supremely talented and I was basically hired specifically to teach Nathan and another student. He had a feel for the beauty of math and because of his abilities was way off the charts," said Mr. Blumenfeld, who now works in research.

"Nathan really stood out and had the potential to do whatever he wanted in the technical research field," he said. "He was very contemplative and a non-conformist, but in a quiet way. He had values and stuck to them."

"While he was very attached to his computer, he enjoyed the outdoors. He was a very well-rounded person and his teachers always respected his intellect and out-of-box thinking," his mother said.

"He was more interested in the bicycle for transportation and had taken up running. He was a barefoot runner, a kind of a back-to-nature type of runner," his father said.

"He was not a risk taker and really disliked driving. He really didn't want anything to do with it," his mother said. "He either walked or rode his bike. He told me once that he didn't want to live in the suburbs and wanted to live in a city."

A computer science and math student who was in his junior year at Hopkins, he quickly absorbed complicated concepts and was a whiz at finding "creative solutions to intriguing and difficult computer problems," Dr. Scheinerman said in his eulogy.

"Nathan enjoyed tinkering with computers and software," he said to the mourners. "Just for fun, he created his own functional programming extension to the C computer language. If you're not a computer scientist, let me explain that what Nathan did was highly sophisticated and demonstrated a mature understanding of computer languages."

In a telephone interview, Dr. Scheinerman said that Mr. Krasnopoler was "gently quiet in his class, but would speak up and ask insightful questions."

Alex Rozenshteyn, a computer science major, had been Mr. Krasnopoler's friend since his freshman year and his roommate.

"Nathan was never afraid to express an opinion and whether it might be popular or not, he'd express it," he said.

Mr. Krasnopoler was a fan of author Michael Pollan, the sustainable-food advocate whose books greatly influenced him.

"He was interested in locally grown organic sustainable food and wanted to learn how to cook it," his mother said, who added that her son as a youngster became an excellent baker of pies and desserts, and loved giving them away to friends as gifts.

"The morning of the accident, he had been to Waverly Market and he had a back pack full of food," his father said.

When Mr. Krasnopoler's parents were told that his recovery was unlikely, they considered organ donation.

"We wanted some good to come out of this tragedy and thought we could donate one of Nathan's kidneys," his mother said. "He was a very healthy kid who neither drank or smoked."

"Our family and friends agreed with that idea," said Mr. Krasnopoler.

"It was in keeping with who Nathan was," his mother added.

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