Geoffrey Burns dies in car crash, ECE department erects memorial

A memorial for Geoffrey Burns was erected in Hamerschlag Hall. (credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor) A memorial for Geoffrey Burns was erected in Hamerschlag Hall. (credit: Thomas Hofman/Photo Editor)

Geoffrey Burns, a sophomore electrical and computer engineering major and prospective physics double major, died on Thursday, Sept. 29, as a result of a car accident outside the Fort Pitt tunnel on Sept. 18. He is survived by his father, Richard Burns, and his sister, Samantha Burns Brantley. A memorial service was held last Saturday at Burns’ high school in California. Several of his friends and a member of the Division of Student Affairs attended.

According to Dean of Student Affairs Gina Casalegno, the electrical and computer engineering department has created a memorial that will be displayed in Hamerschlag Hall, and a further celebration of Burns’ life will be arranged on campus in the coming weeks.

Friends say that Burns was incredibly curious and had diverse interests. On campus, he was involved in fencing; board game club; rocketry club; Atheists, Humanists, Agnostics; and Pugwash.

“He was the sort of person that really just wanted to know everything that he could,” said sophomore materials science and engineering major Daniel Terwilliger, who was Burns’s housemate. “If there was something that he didn’t know how it worked and it was remotely interesting, he would go and try to figure out how it worked.”
Senior mechanical engineering major John Howland agreed. “We could hold conversations for hours and hours, and often did, on such a wide variety of topics. He was so knowledgeable about such a range of things.”

Howland said that Burns loved challenging himself. “You certainly saw that, for example, in the board game club,” he said. “Not just trying new games because they were fun — there’s lots of people there who do that — but trying to be really good at them, and succeeding.”

Despite his wide range of activities, Burns always made time for his friends. “What took him the longest on every homework I’ve ever seen him do is explaining it to me,” said junior social and decision sciences major Maddison Brumbaugh. “He never left because he got frustrated.”

“He was always selfless about [helping friends],” Howland said. “He spent so much time with me on Physics III.”

According to friends, Burns was a brilliant student. “He was a procrastinator like the rest of us,” Terwilliger said, “but when he stopped procrastinating, he finished whatever he was working on really quickly.”

“He had a phenomenal ability to hear material once and not just understand it but retain it,” Howland said.

Brumbaugh agreed, saying that Burns never had to take a single note in the classes they took together. “I think he was the best of Carnegie Mellon nerds,” she said.
“You can’t really encapsulate someone’s life in a two-sentence sound byte,” Howland said. But he had an idea of one sentence that described Burns well: “You would have liked him.”