It was a week before Christmas and a month before his 26th birthday. Blanketed by the velvet darkness of midnight, he drove on rain-slick roads near Stanford University, where he was fulfilling his dream of conducting nanotechnology research far from his home in Denmark. The darkness obscured a metal sign, an unyielding tree, and in a precarious instant, the world lost Rune Thode Nielsen, a young man brimming with a passion to truly leave his mark on Earth.
When I began writing for Mother Nature Network in June 2010, my first article was about the World Youth Climate Conference
(WYCC) in Mexico. I had written that despite the gloom discussions about climate change usually cast, the innovative ideas and enthusiasm of the young participants at WYCC gave me hope for forging a sustainable future.
It was at this conference that I first met Rune, one of the youngest members of the International Movement for Leisure Activities in Science and Technology (MILSET) World Executive Committee and former president of the Danish Youth Association for Science (UNF), two of the organizations that planned the conference. I met legions of inspiring youth during that week, but Rune shined with an unparalleled light. As a leader of the conference's international program, he organized our spirited discussions and debates. He was the embodiment of someone who took action for his beliefs.
In addition to his leadership roles with UNF and MILSET, he has attended numerous international conferences to advocate for changes in climate policy and has utilized his intellect for high-caliber studies in physics and nanotechnology. He showed us that one person can truly change the world.
In addition to all his illustrious achievements, Rune also reached out a welcoming hand to every stranger, who would soon be his friend. My most lasting image is of his wide, infectious grin while shimmying in the international cha-cha line. Not only was Rune a man of science (at the Stanford Microsystems Lab, he was working on a project entitled "Passivation for Piezoresistive Cantilevers"), he was a man of the people. He recognized that the key to initiating change was to start with mobilizing the public. Hence, he found his leadership roles to be incredibly rewarding. Through them, he was able to reach youth around the world, educating them on pressing global issues such as climate change and encouraging them to take action. I am just one of the many, many people he has inspired.
When I learned of Rune’s passing, overwhelming grief was my first reaction. My thoughts and sympathies are and will always be with his family and friends. Upon reflection, I resolved that rather than focusing on what has been lost, I should celebrate all that Rune has managed to accomplish in his time here.
When I returned home from WYCC, I kept in mind the crucial piece of knowledge Rune had imparted: share your knowledge widely. My new role as state correspondent for MNN was the perfect opportunity for me to apply that philosophy. Through these articles, photos and videos, I hope to provide readers with an understanding of the implications for environmental science breakthroughs and advice on how to pursue a greener lifestyle. In this way, Rune's light shines on in the world — through all those he has inspired.
I hope today to pass the light on to you, as well, for you to think of this remarkable young man and keep his spirit alive through your actions. At the start of this new year, remember the power that your one life can have. Take an active stance and share your gifts, your beliefs with the world. Grasp your neighbor's hand in your own and we will encircle the globe with a chain of understanding and cooperation. Rune believed that together, we can change our ways and save our home planet, and so do I.