The death of Yichao Wang, a visiting Chinese doctoral student, of complications after a bicycling accident on Feb. 3 has both saddened Stanford community members and spurred many to take action to heighten bike safety awareness on campus.
“It’s a heavy blow for everyone here, because even though he was here only for a very short time, everybody knew him,” said Dr. Martin Reinhard, Wang’s local host in the department of civil and environmental engineering. “He was not just an observer — he interacted quite strongly with people and had his own ideas.”
A memorial service is set for Saturday at 11 a.m. in Mountain View.
Wang, an exchange researcher from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, had researched since January the use of membranes in removing trace organic contaminants from recycled water. According to Reinhard, Wang was well into his work, and his loss represents a very serious setback for researchers at NTU.
Professor Chuyang Tang Ph.D. ‘07, Wang’s adviser at NTU, encouraged Wang to come to Stanford to learn laboratory techniques to bring back to Singapore.
“He fulfilled a very important function, namely to connect different countries, universities and laboratories,” Reinhard said. “We depend on people who are willing to go out, meet other people, exchange and interact with people elsewhere.”
His loss also came as a great blow to his colleagues at the laboratory, though he had only been at Stanford for about two months — and in the lab since just January — when the accident occurred.
One of Wang’s peers, another doctoral student in the Reinhard group who asked for anonymity while mourning, told The Daily in an e-mail, “People liked how smiling and outgoing he was. Yichao was [a] very cheerful, always smiling, energetic person. He was very intelligent and hard working, thirsty for knowledge.”
The question of bike safety on campus has also come under scrutiny in light of the accident. Wang was not wearing a helmet on Feb. 3.
Reinhard noted that from the perspective of a relatively newly arrived international student, the widespread lack of helmet-wearing on campus could lead to less safe biking practices. If not wearing a helmet on campus appears to be the norm, he suggested, newly arrived international students might adopt the same habits.
Wang, who lived in downtown Palo Alto, had been commuting between his home and Stanford twice daily for two weeks at the time of the accident.
At 9:30 p.m. that day, he failed to yield to a Honda Civic at the intersection of Palm Drive and Museum Way, according to California Highway Patrol officers. Colliding with the car, he was thrown from his bike onto the road, landing 128 feet away.
“People who are here only for the short term seem to me especially vulnerable, in a sense,” Reinhard said. “I think we will have to pay better attention to equipping people, making sure they have safety gear.”
“Something like that,” he added, “should never happen.”
The accident has been a reality check for Wang’s peers, who purchased a spare bike helmet for the laboratory in response to the accident, in case someone forgets his or hers at home, according to the same doctoral student.
“We feel such an accident could have happened to any one of us,” the student said.
According to the Chinese Mutual Aid International Network Web site, where donations poured in for Wang’s financially strained family, hundreds of donors had given more than $45,000 as of Feb. 22, the date of the most recent posting.
Dan Cao Ph.D. ‘05, now a postdoctoral student at the Stanford School of Medicine department of pediatrics and genetics, stepped in after the accident to assist Wang’s family as a translator and public liaison.
Cao said a public memorial service is set for Saturday at 11 a.m. at Mountain View Chapel on Castro Street in Mountain View. She said Wang’s father will speak and that Chinese consulate officials from San Francisco will attend.
“He made the most out of his time available here,” Reinhard said of Wang, “and it would’ve been a very successful stay.”