Dr. Kah Kay Sung, who earned five MIT degrees from 1986-95, was killed in the Singapore Airlines crash in Taiwan last Tuesday.
Dr. Sung, 35, and his wife, Jennifer Loo of Hong Kong, were among 81 persons on flight SQ006 who died when it crashed while attempting to take off at Chiang Kai-shek Airport in Taipei. The Boeing 747 carried 159 passengers and 20 crew members. Dr. Sung and Ms. Loo were en route to Los Angeles to attend the Association for Computing Machinery Multimedia Conference.
Dr. Sung's body has been found and identified. Ms. Loo is presumed dead but has not been identified yet. Ms. Loo, 28, an economist, is a graduate of Wellesley College.
An assistant professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Dr. Sung won the School of Computing Teaching Excellence Award for the second time shortly before he died. He had been on the NUS faculty since 1995, when he received the PhD in electrical engineering from MIT. Before that, Dr. Sung, a founder and president of the MIT Singapore Students Society (SSS), received two SBs from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 1986, an SM and EE in 1992 and a PhD in 1996.
Dr. Sung's PhD thesis and subsequent work on face detection has had "a significant impact" on research in the field, said Dr. Tomaso Poggio, the Uncas and Helen Whitaker Professor in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Dr. Sung and a colleague hold a US patent on a technique for image screening and feature detection.
"He was a great human being and a dear friend," said Professor Poggio, who was Dr. Sung's thesis advisor. "I will miss him greatly, as will all of us at the Center for Biological and Computational Learning and the AI Lab who knew him."
Dr. Sung's MIT peers remember a quiet man with a wry sense of humor who reached out to teach Cambodian refugee children sponsored by his church in Woburn. A man of simple tastes, he indulged himself by driving a black Acura.
While a graduate student, he maintained an active interest in the SSS and continued to participate in fundraisers for undergraduate social events. He was once named the SSS Nerd of the Year.
He was a dedicated fan of Star Trek and professional wrestling, often trying to convince friends to attend the matches with him or to watch them on television. He was nicknamed Mr. Perfect after one of the WWF wrestlers. A dedicated jogger, he also ran in the 1994 Boston Marathon.
The Singapore Students Society invites condolence messages and recollections to be posted on its web page at http://web.mit.edu/mitsss/www.
In one of the first messages posted, Dr. Wey Fun (PhD 1995) wrote: "Among the Singaporean academics, his research interest and percepts are perhaps the closest to mine. I will have one friend less who can profusely discuss AI topics with me. It's hard to cope with the loss."
Hui-Lin Lai (SB 1992) said: "I deeply moan for Kah Kay and Jennifer's death. However, there is a little silver lining here: at least they go to heaven together ever after. This tragedy teaches me a lesson: treasure every single moment with my loved ones while alive. Life is too short to wait." Said Tzu-Jun Yen: "He was a really nice guy and a good president -- very organized."
Dr. Sung is survived by his father, Dr. Sung Wing Huen, a surgeon; his mother, Dr. Sung-Yap Siew Khim, a general practitioner; and a sister, Dr. Sung Min, all of Singapore.
William Westphal, a retired research affiliate in the Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems, died October 3 at age 84. The Marblehead resident was hired by MIT in 1942 and retired in 1999. He is survived by a daughter, Nina.
Catherine Burke of Riverview, FL, died on October 10 at age 69. She began working at MIT in 1963 and retired in 1987 as an assistant operating manager with Telecommunications Systems. She is survived by her son, Kevin of Riverview.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 8, 2000.