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Thursday, June 11, 2015

ISCB mourns the loss John Wooley

Dr. John Wooley shaped policy at the U.S. National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Energy to pave the way for massive growth and transformation in the field of computational biology. He passed away in April after prolonged cancer. After decades spent launching new initiatives in computational biology that pushed forward discoveries, innovation, and national programs in genomics, protein structure, crystallography, and systems biology, Dr. Wooley served as Vice Chancellor for Research and Professor of Pharmacology at the University of California, San Diego.

"John Wooley was an inspiration to me and to our community. His vision saw the potential impact of integrating computer science and biology as we entered the 21st Century. Both fields were transforming as new technologies made possible new types of observations at massive scales. Not only did he shape the direction of the field, but he shaped individuals through his mentorship and unflagging optimism. I had great luck to benefit directly from his guidance and leadership during my early years as a post-doctoral Fellow at the Department of Energy and on through my time as a professor in the Bioinformatics & Systems Biology program at UC San Diego. John will be missed by many," said Terry Gaasterland, Director of the Scripps Genome Center at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Professor in the Bioinformatics & Systems Biology program at UC San Diego.

"John gave me my first grant while he was at the NSF. It was the early 90's and the first grant between a biomedical researcher and a computer scientist at Columbia University. What was remarkable was that John gave us more money than we asked for. Many grants later, that has never happened to me again. That was the kind of person John was; breaking rules and tradition to do what he believed in. In that case it was to explore the use of object-oreinted database technologies for answering new types of questions of the rapidly growing corpus of macromolecular structure data. What we learnt from that grant ultimately fed into our work on the RCSB Protein Data Bank (PDB) from which many others were to make landmark discoveries in structural biology and bioinformatics. John saw that coming – that was his strength – seeing the future as if it were today. I was thrilled when John joined us at UCSD and he was instrumental, along with Palmer Taylor, in my securing a tenured professorship in the new School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences even before one brick was laid for the building to house the School. I would periodically visit John in his office and be amazed at his command of what was hot (and what was not) in the ever growing field of computational biology. He kept up this encyclopedic knowledge even as his health fluctuated. Frail on the outside there was enormous strength within; a strength which I and many others gained from. Our young field has lost a pioneer to whom we all owe a great debt," said Philip Bourne, Ph.D., FACMI, Associate Director for Data Science (ADDS) & Founding Editor in Chief of PLOS Computational Biology.
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Contact Person: Nadine Kampman Costello (ncostello@iscb.org)