Middlefield crash victim identified as visiting scholar

Stanford nanotechnology researcher Rune Nielsen had 'huge network of friends'

A man who died early Saturday when his car hit a tree and parked vehicle on Middlefield Road has been identified as Rune Thode Nielsen, the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner's office confirmed Tuesday (Dec. 21).

Nielsen, a Danish national from Copenhagen and visiting scholar at Stanford University, who studied nanotechnology, was a resident of the St. Claire Gardens neighborhood.

Nielsen "had a huge network of friends," a source said. His family has been notified.

He studied nanotechnology at Stanford Microsystems Laboratory and was doing research on passivation for piezoresistive cantilevers under Beth Pruitt, the principal investigator and associate professor in the department of mechanical engineering, according to the university's website.

Nielsen was pursuing a Master of Science/Engineering degree in physics and nanotechnology.

In 2009, he received a Bachelor of Science/Engineering degree in physics and nanotechnology from the Technical University of Denmark and a Graduate Certificate in business administration from Copenhagen Business School.

He came to Stanford in March to complete a masters thesis, Lisa Lapin, assistant vice president of university communications, said.

"It is always tragic to lose someone brilliant and dedicated to making a difference in the world. We are very sad, and the people in the international community on campus are particularly devastated. He was very well liked," she said.

The campus will be planning a memorial service after the new year, when everyone returns, she said.

The crash occurred Saturday morning (Dec. 18) at about 12:50 as Nielsen, 25, drove south along Middlefield Road into Palo Alto, police said.

His vehicle first struck a sign on the west side of the street, then slammed into a tree and ricocheted off a parked vehicle before coming to rest in the front yard of a home near the intersection of Middlefield Road and Hawthorne Avenue, according to police.

Will Carter, who lives on the corner of Middlefield and Hawthorne, said the car appeared to have veered from Middlefield onto Hawthorne after hitting the street sign. It then struck a tree on Hawthorne on the driver's side and spun around to face east. The car also flattened a portion of the fence in front of the house where Carter lives.

Arriving police officers found Nielsen, who was the vehicle's sole occupant, with what they say were serious injuries. Palo Alto fire paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene.

Members of the Palo Alto Police Department's Specialized Traffic Accident Reconstruction team and the Santa Clara County medical examiner's office were investigating the crash.

Alcohol had not been ruled out as a factor, and police said the medical examiner's office would determine if the driver was under the influence.

A representative from the medical examiner's office said those tests commenced Monday, but that it could be several weeks before they produce a conclusion.

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1 person likes this
Posted by Karen
a resident of Southgate
on Dec 21, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Rune was an amazing, kind and wonderful young man!!! A life that left us way to early. So many of his family and friends have lost a wonderful friend.

1 person likes this
Posted by sorry
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 21, 2010 at 1:37 pm

So sorry... my condolences to his family. It is always terrible to lose a young family member. I believe it is even more so when it happens overseas, so far away from home.

1 person likes this
Posted by Agent Craig Lee
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 21, 2010 at 5:09 pm

I am the investigating officer in this tragic incident.

If anyone has any information relating to this event (i.e., you were with him on the night just prior to the collision or know somebody else that was with Mr. Nielsen, etc.), please contact me at (650)617-3100 x1338 or email me at

Thank you.

1 person likes this
Posted by Kate
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 22, 2010 at 8:19 am

I really can't write anything in this small comment box that would do Rune justice, but he was an absolutely incredible person who will be terribly missed. I cannot thank him enough for touching my life so positively and so profoundly, and will never forget him or the time we shared.

1 person likes this
Posted by Agent Craig Lee - PAPD
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 22, 2010 at 9:47 am


Please contact me at (650) 617-3100 x1338.

Thank you.

Agent Craig Lee - PAPD

1 person likes this
Posted by Kate
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 22, 2010 at 1:57 pm

@ Agent Lee,

I called and left you a voicemail with my number, but please feel free to email me as well at [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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