Short biography

Valery was the dream-maker (מגשים החלומות) of many researchers. In my own case, I had “scientific dreams”, which I used to tell to Valery; then, before I knew it, he made my dreams a reality in ways that often stunned me in their creativity, depth, insight, quality and impact.

Valery was the ideal Data Scientist, or Data Engineer – and he had always been a data-scientist without being called as such. In our Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management (IE&M), Data Science & Engineering has become a central theme of both its present and its future; and we worked hard at characterizing the profile of a data scientist, or a data engineer, when we designed a corresponding profession.

Prof. Avishai Mandelbaum

Valery In Portugal 1999

Portugal, 1999

Valery has left a legacy of research outputs that have impacted many lives, much more than is acknowledged by the clients for whom he worked. There are a group of professionals who know the truth, including his direct employers, and they will remember Valery for the way he met every professional challenge in his focused way, always providing an ingenious implementable solution.

Prof. Paul Feigin

Valery in Portugal, 1999

Short Biography

Valery Trofimov was born on June 16, 1939 in Karelia, the northern Russian region bordering Finland. His father, a military journalist, hailed from the region, while his mother came from a Polish family in what is now Belarus.

Just before Valery was born, his father was sent to war in Finland, where he barely survived when his unit was cut off. Then, after the war with Nazi Germany began in 1941, Valery’s mother and grandmother fled east, to a village in Russia’s deep north, while his father fought the Nazis all the way to Vienna.

Black and white photo of Valery in 1943

Valery in 1943

Valery in 1943

In 1945, Valery and his mother moved to join him in Vienna, where their family was quartered in the palatial residence of a Nazi aristocrat.

Valery often recalled skating on the lush Persian carpet there (which he destroyed) and taking the tram to buy milk in Vienna’s French occupation sector.

His international childhood continued in Romania’s seaside town of Constanta, where Valery’s father was posted after Vienna, eventually retiring as a lieutenant-colonel.

 

Valery and son 1971 Kiev

Valery and son 1971 Kiev

Valery with son, Kiev, 1971

It was only in his teen years that Valery returned to the Soviet Union, finishing high school in Kiev and then enrolling at the Institute of National Economy in Kiev, where he earned a Ph.D. in statistics

 

 

He became fluent in French at the time, and in 1975 traveled to work abroad – to teach at the University of Madagascar, a former French colony.

Valery with a local young woman Africa, Madagascar, 1976

Africa, Madagascar 1976

Valery with lemurs in Madagascar, 1976

with lemurs, Madagascar, 1976

Valery with local young woman, Madagascar, 1976 Valery with lemurs, Madagascar, 1976

The fisherman Valery 

Valery caches a shark

Madagascar – Caught the shark, 1976

Madagascar – Caught the shark, 1976

Night spearfishing 1987, Ukraine

Night spearfishing in the lake, September 1987, Ukraine

Night spearfishing in the lake, 1987, Ukraine

Following his return to Kiev, Valery became a Professor and the Chair of Statistics at the Kiev University of Economics.

He authored several books on statistics, mathematics and mathematical modeling, becoming a respected scientific authority in Ukraine and educating Ph.D. students from all over the world.

This is also when he developed his interest in programming and computer science, initially on primitive machines that still used cardboard cards as data sources. The machines were only available at night, and Valery spent many nights at work.

Valery's certificate - officer on efforts to control population growth in Africa

Valery certificate

Valery’s certificate as an officer on efforts to control population growth in Africa

In 1984, Valery moved to New York, where he joined the United Nations Population Fund, working as a program officer on efforts to control population growth in Africa.

Valery with a local girl, Africa, 1988

Africa 1988

Valery with local girl, Africa, 1988

The job took him across Africa, including to war-torn places likes Angola or the Central African Republic.

Valery stayed at the United Nations headquarters until 1992, when he moved back to Madagascar for two years, to work as chief technical adviser for the United Nations Office for Project Services (and to perfect his collection of seashells.)

A new chapter in Valery’s life – and a return to his beloved science – started when he moved with his wife Alevtina to Israel in 1994.

Israel 1996, Valery with his wife.

Israel 1996

Valery with his wife 1996

THE TECHNION – At the Statistics Lab

From the eulogy by Prof. Paul Feigin, May 21, 2018 (in Hebrew)

Valery began work at the Technion in Haifa in November 1995, and remained there until the day he suffered a deadly stroke some twenty-three years later.

Valery working notes

working notes

Valery working notes – SEEGraph Designer and SEEGraph Viewer projects

It started with Valery meeting with and offering his services to Professor Paul Feigin, who was then heading (jointly with Professor Ayala Cohen) the Technion Statistics Laboratory in the Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management. Valery’s work was first funded by the Ministry of Absorption as an Immigrant Scientist. This support had the advantage of encouraging potential employers to employ scientists for a relatively low-cost trial period of one year, after which the support would decrease, and the employer would pay an increasing portion of the salary. In the case of Valery, it was clear almost from the first month that he had a huge amount to contribute and that there was absolutely no doubt about extending his contract.

To be more specific, not only was Valery’s statistical background and insight extremely good, but he was able to self-study and master, at a very fast rate, completely new methods, theories and computer languages: from implementing the Viterbi algorithm in an efficient manner, through optimizing data storage, to designing a 3-D triangular tessellation for mapping localized heart movements and currents, Valery not only dealt with the mathematics and code, but he also studied and understood the underlying subject area. Those subject areas could be queueing systems in a telephone call center or the structure and function of the heart.

Valery worked mainly on larger long-term projects, including those concerned with queueing systems that would eventually lead to his move to the Technion’s SEE Laboratory. Such projects included a period of some seven years between 2000 and 2007, during which he developed the algorithms for the CARTOTM multi-electrode heart mapping diagnostic device designed by Biosense-Webster (Israel), as well as software at Teva Pharmaceutical Industries for integrating patient databases with different but overlapping fields.

Valery with his grandson-1997

with his grandson-1997

With grandson, 1997

Valery with his granddaughter 1999

with his granddaughter 1999

Valery with his granddaughter, 1999

THE TECHNION – At the SEE Lab

From the eulogy by Prof. Avishai Mandelbaum, May 21, 2018 (full version)

About 12 years ago, the dean at the time, Boaz Golany, convinced a friend of the Technion to give our Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management a donation, which will support the foundation of a research laboratory, in the area of Service Engineering. The goal of that lab was to collect data from large service systems and prepare it for research and teaching.

SEELab team with Marcus, June 2007

SEELab team, 2007

SEELab team with Inge Marcus, June 2007 (from the left : Prof. Avishai Mandelbaum, Igor Gavako, Inge Marcus, Dr. Valery Trofimov, Polyna Khudyakov,  Prof. Paul Feigin)

Since I had not known Valery, I asked Paul to tell me a little about him. I specifically asked how good he is at what he does. Paul paused for a little, then gave me an answer that frankly shocked me: “He is a genius” was his very brief answer; and those familiar with Paul know that he does not lend himself to exaggerations. Of course, I needed no more, and Valery immediately started his tenure as the senior researcher of the SEELab.

We recruited two more researchers, Ella and Katerina (who left after a few years), and soon after Igor joined us as well. The three of them: Valery, Ella and Igor, worked at the SEELab, in fact THEY HAVE BEEN THE SEELab, for more than 10 years now.

A few words about this lab, which Valery was its “brain”, no less: it is truly a pioneering and still unique “creature” – there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world; and it has taken time for researchers to appreciate its excellence and significance. In fact, there were plans to open such a lab in Singapore and Hong Kong, and they did not materialize since they did not find their “Valery”. There are now ongoing plans to open a lab following our model in Toronto and in NYC – they are seeking our advice, but such an advice always started with Valery, who taught and guided Ella, Igor and myself – frankly, I am truly unsure how this will work from now on.

Why is the SEELab a pioneer? Because it combines expertise in Statistics and Computer Science – and this is exactly Valery’s professional profile, that enabled him to apply this joint expertise to support data-based research of Service Systems. This combination of Statistics and Computer Science is viewed as natural today – indeed, it is often referred to as the core of Data Science; but this definitely was not the case 10–15 years ago. Hence the SEELab is a pioneer not the least because Valery was a pioneer – his profile in fact shaped and characterized the profile of the SEELab.

Valery with the SEELab team, Junfei Huang visit, June 2012

SEELab team, Junfei Huang visit, 2012

Valery with SEELab team, Junfei Huang visit, June 2012 (from the left: Igor Gavako, Ella Nadjharov, Dr. Valery Trofimov, Arik Senderovich, Prof.  Avishai Mandelbaum, Junfei Huang)

About four years ago, Valery created static visualization of our data, that were wonderful visually and useful functionally. I then went on a sabbatical and used these visualizations, on many occasions, to demonstrate the achievements of the SEELab. Then Arik Senderovitch, who was a PhD student working at the SEELab, brought to my attention that a startup company in Holland, coming out of Eindhoven University, created visualizations that were similar in spirit to what Valery created. These animations were inferior visually to ours, but they were dynamic – and this turned out to be important: the impact of dynamic animations on doctors and managers was immediate and dramatic. I became convinced that we should make SEELab’s data-animations dynamic.

I finished my sabbatical and returned to the SEElab. In our first lab meeting, I raised the issue of dynamic animations, and said that perhaps we should connect to the Dutch company since it is worth learning from them their technology. Valery, in his quiet manner, said: I am not sure that we need to learn from them. I already knew Valery well enough to take his comments seriously. So I said: okay, lets discuss it again on our meeting next week.

Valery in the SEELab, September 2014

Valery at the SEELab, September 2014

Valery at the SEELab, September 2014

However, a few days before that meeting, Valery called me to his computer, saying that he wanted to show me something. I was amazed! In about 3–4 days, he created dynamic animations that the Dutch company could only dream of having – and this company was founded by PhD graduates from a top university, who had done research on precisely such matters.

This was an incredible achievement. We have been using these dynamic data animations numerous times since then, and they actually became the trademark of the SEELab – this is how people remember us, and many do: and, amazingly, Valery did it in 3–4 days, so you can imagine what he has been doing over the 10+ years that he led research at the SEELab.

Valery is survived by his spouse, his loving son and two grandchildren.

Valery with his son in the US 1985

Valery with son, 1985

Valery with his son in New York, 1985

With his wife and grandchildren in Singapore, 2010

With his wife and grandchildren 2010

With his wife and grandchildren in Singapore, 2010