In memory of George Patterson, Ph.D.

This post is a collection of remembrances to celebrate the life and scientific career of George Patterson, Ph.D., Senior Investigator at NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

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The scientific community, especially the imaging, sensors, and microscopy communities, were dealt a major blow on June 20, 2021, when we lost George Patterson. George was a tremendous figure in microscopy. His work on photoswitchable fluorescent proteins contributed directly to Nobel-prize-winning work on super-resolution microscopy, and that work was only a small part of his body of scientific accomplishments. 

For someone who was so gifted, brilliant, and accomplished, George was also a beloved mentor, colleague, and family-man. As you will read in the pieces below, he left and indelible impact on every person who was close to him. His friendliness, generosity of spirit, and approach to science will leave a lasting legacy. 

For myself, I feel my relationship with George has been a long one. I first knew him only as 'Patterson et al.' from his many papers with David Piston and Jennifer Lippincott-Schwarz. As a fluorescent protein developer and graduate student, I consumed his papers and used them to build on my own work. His work on FRET was also instrumental to many studies I carried out during my postdoctoral work on Spinach, where I was trying to figure out the best strategies for getting a photophysically finnicky RNA-fluorophore to either function as a FRET donor or acceptor. 

It wasn't until I became an editor that I met George in person. I was such a fan of his work I was nervous to meet him, but there was no need! He was incredibly down-to-earth, outgoing, and generous with his time and thoughts. I met George several times over the years, often at Janelia and Biophysical Society meetings. Beyond being fun and charming, he was also incredibly smart. He could understand concepts in an instant and explain even the most technical details of his own studies with crystal clarity. This combination of personality and brilliance surely does not come often, and I am profoundly sad that I will never get to pick his brain again. He will be deeply missed, and I can only offer my sincerest sympathy to his family, friends, and colleagues. 

We at Nature Methods wish to honor George's memory with this tribute on our community page. In it, we’ve collected stories and remembrances of him from friends, current and former trainees, and family. These stories serve to celebrate his life and highlight how wonderful he was, how he influenced science and scientists for the better, and how far-reaching his impact has been and will be. Obituaries for Dr. Patterson can be found at https://irp.nih.gov/blog/post/2021/06/nih-mourns-the-passing-of-george-patterson and https://www.nibib.nih.gov/about-nibib/staff/in-memoriam-george-patterson.

We would love to hear your stories as well in the comments.

- Rita Strack, Ph.D. Senior Editor, Nature Methods

George’s journey from growing up as a country boy in a very rural area of Lutts, Tennessee to being an accomplished scientist at the National Institutes of Health is an amazing story. This was no easy feat, and George’s family and everyone at home are very proud of him. His generous heart and beautiful spirit, which many of us treasured, were formed by his upbringing and family background.

George was a brilliant researcher with an immense passion for science. George was the “real deal” as one of his friends wrote in a letter. He loved to think about his projects. It was important to George to enjoy the process, to have fun in his scientific endeavors while finding answers to challenging questions.

Despite his enormous passion for science, his family was George’s dream. When we received the earth-shattering cancer diagnosis in December 2020, George turned to me afterwards and said with his warm voice: “Susanne, everything will be fine. I have lived my dream. I have a beautiful family.”

George was a wonderful husband and a proud father of Isabella and Max. It was important to him that we were happy, and he would do everything he could to make this happen. George considered Isabella and Max the most important contribution he could make to the world. He loved both dearly and he was very proud of his children. It is not an overstatement that his happiest moments were when Isabella and Max were born. Although I am the “cruise director” of the family as George liked to call me, he was always on board the ship. No matter how busy George was, he would make time to take Isabella and Max to their activities, music lessons, soccer, horseback riding, swimming. He often took his notebook and manuscripts with him so he could write down his thoughts and work on data analysis while the kids attended their classes. George often said “90% of success as a parent is just showing up”, but he did much more than this. George had a passion for math and always supported Isabella and Max with their math homework, often creating extra challenges to make sure both really understood and mastered the subject. George often volunteered at Isabella’s and Max’s Elementary school, most notably by running a science club. He did it with the same passion as he ran his own lab at the NIH. He wrote protocols, tested the experimental conditions at home while turning our kitchen into a laboratory, but most of all he had fun and instilled the excitement for science in these very young students.

George was one of a kind. He could flood a room with sunshine. He was loved by his family, friends, and colleagues due to his gentle kindness, his humble demeanor, and his sense of humor. I have always been aware that George had a huge impact, but the numerous emails, letters, calls, and visits from people inside and outside of the NIH over the last months have opened my eyes to which extent George has touched people’s personal and professional life. It was wonderful to also receive messages with beautiful memories and photos from his trainees. George cared for his trainees like he did for his family. George’s upbringing and his own journey from a farm boy to a scientist ensured that postbaccalaureate and postdoctoral fellows from very diverse backgrounds got all the support that was needed to be successful. George’s hard work, his determination and his insatiable scientific curiosity helped him to defeat the odds and to succeed, and he instilled this confidence into many of his trainees.  

George’s warmhearted love, his bright dignity, and his unshakeable aptitude will guide our way. We have him safely in our hearts and souls.

- Susanne Neumann

For George H. Patterson, my friend and colleague

I want to begin by offering my deepest sympathy to George’s wife Susanne, children Isabella & Max, and to the entire Patterson family. 

George was the most genuine person I have ever known, and I have never heard anyone who knew him say any differently.  I was George’s PhD thesis adviser and he was my first student.  George’s impact in my lab was stunning – in five years, he published 10 papers, 7 as first author, and some of those now have ~1,000 citations.  I was very proud of this, and the lab’s productivity pretty much got me tenure.  However, after moving on to a postdoc with Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz at NIH, George soon published 13 more papers including 3 in Science, 2 in Nature Methods, and one in Cell.  It turns out that I was holding him back!

George was smart, focused, thoughtful, but most-importantly, hard-working.  Someone once asked me how much George worked.  At the time, I was probably in lab 80-90 hours a week, but I had to admit that I didn’t know the answer because he was usually there when I came in and still there when I left.  I shouldn’t have been surprised – When George applied for the PhD program, it was not a slam dunk.  After a full Friday of interviews, he asked if he could skip the city tour and party with current students on Saturday because he had to get back home and help his brothers out in their garage.  “Oh,” we said, “you’re working to help pay your way through school”.  “No, I just help them out for free” – Ah . . . works for free on the weekends, we all thought “Grad Student!” 

In hindsight, George and I looked like a pretty good fit, but George often said that we took a chance on each other – me a new Assistant Professor, and him a first generation college student.  That was certainly true – and at least from my perspective, I hit the jackpot!  George taught me to be a better scientist, but he also taught me lessons that I hope have made me a better person and mentor.  Three things stand out: 

First, George taught me to trust my students – they want to be competitive with the best.  George once got upset at me for trying to protect him from what I thought were out-of-scope questions after a presentation, saying, “if I can’t take it from our faculty and my fellow students, how am I going to compete with the students from Harvard, Stanford, etc”.

Second, George taught me to be open to everyone and everything.  I don’t think that my picture of the ideal first graduate student was a country boy who lived so far south in Tennessee that he went to the University of North Alabama and lived at home.  George showed me that great talent comes from anywhere and everywhere, and if we can recognize, accept, and nurture it, the research enterprise will be a much better place. 

Finally, George taught me to focus on always trying to make a positive difference.  I once asked him why he had decided to go to graduate school.  He told me that he wanted to add to society, and he thought he could do that through research – That he did!  George was a positive force for good, and he certainly left the world a better place than when he found it.  I know that I am a better person for having known him and worked with him.

- David W. Piston, July 5, 2021

George joined my lab after having completed a super successful Ph.D. with David Piston at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. I still remember our first meeting when he came to NIH for an interview. I was immediately struck by his kind and selfless manner and decided right away he was perfect for the lab. Most of the members of my lab at the time were either European or from an urban lifestyle, so George’s country-boy charm and homespun manner had quite an impact. Before long, the lab environment changed, with lab members enjoying country music and weekly beer gatherings at a local brewery. George’s work ethic and selfless humanity quickly garnered him respect and love from all the members of the lab. 

I remember when George first decided to develop the photoactivatable GFP. It was at the Lysosome Gordon Conference where he had presented some work trying to show that lysosomes continuously exchange contents with each. The attendees were not agreeing with his interpretation of his results, so George told me he had an idea for convincing the skeptics- he would develop a variant of GFP that would be photo-switchable – that is, fluoresce on command by a flash of light. It was a bold proposal that would take George places he never imagined. For the next year and a half, George worked tirelessly and without complaint, testing numerous possibilities. Then, to the amazement of our entire lab, George displayed his photoactivatable GFP. It was almost magical to see this new protein switch-on upon exposure to UV light. Just as George had predicted on our bus ride home from the Lysosome Gordon conference, his new method proved his original thesis about lysosomes. His results appeared in the prestigious journal Science. One of the reviewers simply wrote: “The editors of Science should be congratulated for receiving this spectacular work.”  As was his manner, George took it all in stride.

Among the scientists who read George’s paper with great excitement was an unemployed physicist named Eric Betzig. He had an idea for how George’s method could be used to develop images smaller than the wavelength of light for the first time – known as super-resolution. Eric had been working on this idea with a former Bell Lab colleague Harold Hess, and George and I agreed to allow them to transfer their home-built microscope to our lab and to assist them in testing Eric’s idea. George was crucial for this project, ceaselessly making the necessary variety of constructs and probes with his photo-switchable protein. 

George was driven during this intense period by a deep understanding of the significance of the work. It paid off. The new super-resolution technology that emerged became known as PALM, for Photoactivatable Light Microscopy. Its significance was recognized four years later when Eric was awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. This never would have been possible without George’s ingenuity and rigor as a dedicated scientist. He continued that tradition when he established his own lab at NIH, developing further tools for imaging life processes inside of cells.

When I think of George’s career, what stands out even more than his achievements was his decency as a human being.  Although he was brilliant and creative as a scientist, there has never been anyone so well-liked and highly respected in my lab.  I, like so many others around him at NIH, knew George as a colleague, a mentor, and above all, a friend, and will miss him greatly.

- Jennifer Lippincott-Schwarz

George was the nicest, warmest, and friendliest of colleagues anyone could hope to know. I felt extremely privileged to have helped recruit George about twelve years ago. I was elated when he agreed to join our institute, and I was in awe of him ever since for his amazing scientific accomplishments; for the exemplary way in which he led his lab – including his commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion; for his calmness in overcoming hurdles without complaint, and for his wonderful sense of humor.  While George was a brilliant scientist, he was also one of the most modest and humble researchers whom I’ve ever encountered at the NIH. George was invited to give lectures all around the world, yet in his modest way, I never heard him speak about those prestigious institutions he’d visited.  But the one trip that George proudly talked to me about at length, was an invitation he received in 2018 to give the Commencement address at Collinwood high-school in Collinwood, Tennessee, his alma mater.  He told me that no student from that school, located in rural southern farmland, had ever aspired to obtain a Ph.D. in science, let alone make a career at an institution like NIH.  George wanted to get the message across to the graduating class that they too could aspire to a career in science if they set their mind to it.  That epitomizes George’s priorities and his desire to help others. George had an enormously positive impact on the lives of his many colleagues and students whom he mentored, and he will be fondly remembered by all of us.

 – Richard Leapman

When George discovered and perfected the photo activation of green fluorescent proteins 20 years ago, he probably never imagined the full scientific impact that it would have and how transformative he would be to many people’s personal lives. That certainly was the case for me. I first heard of George after my colleague Eric Betzig and I visited the National Magnet Lab in Florida. There we learned of his photoactivatable Green fluorescent proteins. His discovery was the seed that started a whole new concept in microscopy and more personally for us was the beginning of our path back into research.     

A couple of months later George, Eric and I were working intensely together from fall through winter and into spring to see how these blinking molecules could open the door to a new form of microscopy.  It was the most amazing collaboration; George would start the process by preparing dozens of different samples on cover-glasses and would bring them to the microscope dark room where we would all watch the activated blinking in all the different fluorescent proteins. We worked in darkness from before sunrise to after dusk, and George was tireless, dedicated and selfless in providing various fluorescent protein samples. I remember the weeks spent perfecting them and watching those molecules flashing like a thousand flashing stars. It was truly a mesmerizing time and magical wonderful collaboration as we watched the molecular light shine. 

George was the source of this and it touched and tremendously transformed my own life. Like so many others. I will cherish those memories and forever be grateful to him. 

- Harald Hess

I am honored to say a few things about my friend and colleague George Patterson.  

First, George was a first-rate scientist. I was lucky enough to start my job as a lab head at the NIH the same time as George, 12 years ago. At that time, George's scientific accomplishments were already legendary, as he had invented the first photoactivatable fluorescent protein, and had contributed towards the development of photoactivated localization microscopy - a method that would eventually earn a share of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. These achievements alone earned George international recognition. Never one to rest on his laurels, in his independent career at NIH George developed new and improved fluorescent proteins, invented better microscopes, and designed new computational methods for image analysis and data processing. The sheer breadth of his achievements is staggering, especially considering that he did the majority of his independent work with a lab that averaged less than five people. But in talking to George you might never get a sense of these accomplishments, as he was the most humble scientist I have ever met, and a breath of fresh air in a field littered with big egos.  

Second, George was incredibly generous with his expertise and time. I mentioned we started our labs at the same time. As is often the case at NIH, there was a waiting period for our labs to be ready, and it happened that George's lab was ready before mine. Well, George gave me a permanent bench in his lab and helped to train my fledgling lab in the basics of molecular biology and cell culture - always dropping what he was doing to help my lab get our projects off the ground. That kind of selflessness was also trademark George - his door was always open, he was always happy to share and give away the tools and expertise he developed, and he took satisfaction and pleasure in helping and training others. 

Third, George knew - and he taught me - what really mattered. I've lost track of the times that I showed up at his door to commiserate about a research project - generally dejected when a paper was rejected or elated when a paper was accepted. George certainly shared in these moments of failure and triumph, but one of my favorite memories is when George pulled me aside and told me that, well, getting a paper accepted is great - but any sense of achievement he felt about his scientific work paled in comparison to watching his children learn how to ride their bikes. Now that I have kids of my own I know what he meant. For George, his family always came first. My heart goes out to them in this time and I am so very sorry for their loss. But I also know that George’s memory will endure.

- Hari Shroff

I often refer to George Patterson as one of the most talented people I have ever met. He was the trifecta: a brilliant scientist, impeccable colleague, and a fierce friend.  As a scientist, he was passionate and persistent, with inspiring creativity. His keen ability to see problems from a new perspective, his meticulous attention to detail and inquisitive nature combined to enlighten a new realm of scientific possibility. George’s pioneering discoveries with fluorescent proteins will enable future generations of scientists to continue unlocking the mystery and beauty of the cell for many years to come. But equal to George’s brilliance was his humility and kindness.  In a field where egos can often go unchecked, much could be learned from George’s mild-mannered approach and understated demeanor. He was a much-needed breath of fresh air who cared much more about the quality of science and a collaborative nature then titles and awards. He had such a gigantic heart and giving personality. Not only would he share any construct he ever made, but he’d provide it in every color (just in case). And that generous nature carried through in all aspects of his life, making George an incredible friend that was always there when you needed him. He had a larger than life laugh that could warm any room and if he started to sing or dance…look out….you were in for a treat. George brought joy to all those around him. Some of my fondest memories in science are still ‘coffee discussions’ with George, where we could raise problems and openly hash ideas. I am sure many would agree that a new perspective could often be found after only one coffee with George. There is no question that science lost a one-of-a-kind gem with the passing of George Patterson. And while my heart is full of immense sadness, I feel truly honored and special for having had the opportunity to know George and call him a friend. Finally, I just want to thank my dear friend, for having such an impact on my life and for making it richer with a friendship that I will forever cherish.

- Jennifer Gillette

I was very surprised and saddened to learn of the death of George Patterson. George was an incredibly generous collaborator on two projects that dealt with imaging chimeric antigen receptors as they were expressed by T cells. George was very patient with myself and others in my lab as he explained imaging technologies that we had no prior experience with. I remember George always insisted on walking to my lab even when I offered to go to his lab when we had meetings. I think of this as a sign of his generosity, thoughtfulness, and humbleness. George was just as thoughtful when interacting with my postdocs. George was a very skilled and rigorous scientist. All in all, George was a great guy who will be missed by many people.

Jim Kochenderfer, Senior Investigator NIH, NCI

George H. Patterson was a brilliant scientist and a compassionate mentor to all who knew him. He brought joy to so many people and advanced the field of microscopy far beyond what I could have ever imagined when I was examining critters under a small scope as a child. When I was searching for postdoctoral fellowship opportunities, I nervously reached out to George because his work was fascinating, interdisciplinary and impactful. I was anticipating he would not want a PhD chemist who had minimal experience in microscopy. To my surprise, George saw value and potential in me and for that I will be forever grateful. When I shared my exciting news with collaborators at NIH, everyone spoke very highly of George and commented on his ability to mentor and his genuine good-natured character. I was thrilled to begin working with him and his team. I am extremely proud to be a product of his laboratory cohort and proud of the work we were able to accomplish together. No matter the challenge George always brought light and optimism to every scientific curiosity. His gift and love for science were magical. One of my fondest memories with George is when we organized a series of experiments with his  daughter’s elementary school science club. I am honored to have benefitted from his teachings and to have the opportunity to carry on his legacy along a path that he helped cultivate for me.

-Kim Jacoby Morris

George was an incredible person with outstanding passion and abilities for science. He was extremely kind and caring. He was a true gift to the people in his life.

I was very fortunate to collaborate with George over the past 10 years. There were numerous times when I would knock on his door with questions about fluorescence. He was always super generous with his time and resources. When we embarked on a new project, developing methods using a fluorescence detection system in analytical ultracentrifugation, we encountered many hurdles related to interpreting the fluorescence signal. When we mentioned this to George, he smiled and offered his suggestions in the humblest way. The challenges we solved as part of the collaborative adventure with George led to publications all of us are proud of.

George’s lab was just next door to ours. When we bumped into each other in the hallway, the chat often turned into a dynamic discussion about new findings our labs. The photo-switchable fluorescent proteins he had been developing provide substantial opportunities to multiple scientific fields. When George told us about his new protein players, padron, dronpa and rsEGFP, which seemed to be new chocolates in a box, we were so excited about the unique temporal signatures of these molecules. Together we developed a new method using a single-color fluorescence probe to resolve the composition of the protein complexes in a multi-component system.  George's positive attitude and creative thinking always inspired us.

George was an extraordinary scientist, mentor, and friend. He has made so much impact and touched on so many of us.  He will be missed immensely.

- Joy Zhao

Long before I had the chance to meet George, I had read and marveled at the imaging wizardry of Patterson et al, that involved innovative use of GFP to address fundamental questions in cell biology. Having recently moved my lab to Washington DC, it was a chance meeting in 2010 that enabled me to connect Dr. Patterson, the smart scientist, with George, the humble human I have since come to know him. I found him to be immensely creative with the ability to turn creative ideas into impactful science.  While I have known George for a decade, his persona and his easygoing ways make me feel that I knew him for much longer. However, never in these years did he speak of his achievements, and only recently did I find out from others that the idea of creating a GFP molecule that can be photoactivated 100-fold was his brainchild. He succeeded at it even though many around him were skeptical of it. He not only disproved that skepticism but went on to use this tool to tackle novel questions and to help bring the super-resolution microscopy revolution that the world has since seen. When this approach earned its recognition in 2014 by the Nobel committee, I wrote to congratulate George for the part he played in it. To which his response was “I am glad that light microscopy gets the spotlight for a while”; such was his humility.

When George first gave me a tour of his lab, he pointed out the microscopes that I knew were responsible for generating the beautiful data I had seen in glossy journal pages. However, what I found him most excited about were the various DIY contraptions he had for these microscopes to keep them being afflicted by the vagaries of the surrounding, or to deal with one or the other practical problem. He was not the one to be swayed by the ritz and glamor, and remained someone who took pride in solving problems posed by the science and the people around him. His ability to do this was instrumental in my efforts to study nanoscale protein clustering and organization at the membrane contact sites. Discussing this work, and getting started in these studies with him helped me gain a new sense of appreciation for George as a scientist and as a mentor. For someone who has not attended George’s workshops that the students rave about, I have learned greatly from him. George has remained my super-resolution guru and guided my forays into this field. In reflecting on George’s life and the way he lived it, I realize that George has also led by example how one can be highly productive and passionate scientist while being a humble human, a successful parent and a family man. He was a dear friend, whose endearing legacy in science and life will be a source of joy and pride for all whose life he touched, and who, like me, had the good fortune of sharing a part of George’s life.

Jyoti Jaiswal

Others will describe all the great science that he achieved, but for me George has been a great colleague and friend since we were comrade postdocs in the Lippincott-Schwartz lab in the late 90s. He was always so self-effacing as he patiently shared sage advice on a huge spectrum of microscopical queries and so kindly sending long, long shopping lists of constructs. I remember our time at NIH as revolving around bad coffee, bad pubs, a good bit of gossiping, and a couple of hair-raising escapades: the skiing day still gives me the fear.  Honest, there was also a fair amount of work, with George coaxing life out of the 410 when no-one else could. He has been an invaluable source of information over the many subsequent years - where else to turn to for the latest fluorescent protein updates? He was modest to a fault, and we were so pleased when he was awarded the Royal Microscopical Society Scientific Achievement Award earlier this year. I will miss him as a true Southern gent and the most generous scientist, but mostly I will miss just having a good laugh with him over pizza and a pint or few.

- Theresa Ward

It is difficult to summarize George’s legacy and kindness in a short paragraph, but I will do my best to highlight how my association with him made my life richer. I had the fortune to work with George for four years and that shaped my scientific and personal outlook in many ways positively. George was a wonderful mentor, scientist, team leader, problem solver and above all a great friend. He was an exemplary human being and the most generous, kind, and compassionate soul that I have ever met. He was extremely down to earth and grounded and a brilliant scientist. 

I first met George via email. I had finished my postdoc at the NIH, and I was considering a career change at that time. I was hesitant to apply but my husband recommended that I should apply and if I get a chance then consider working with him as in my husband’s words “you cannot find a better person on this planet to work with than George and having the opportunity to work with him will change your perspective about science, work and life in general” – I am happy to write that it turned out to be true and I had a wonderful short four years working with George and my lab mates. George had created a very friendly lab environment, where he made learning fun, roadblocks were to be used as an opportunity to explore new avenues rather than mount frustrations and failed experiments were not a bad thing at all!!!

He was a family man scientist who exemplified that great science can be done while giving quality time to family. He was a proud husband and father who loved to display his kids’ pictures and arts all around his office. His love for his family always reflected in everything he did, and he talked about his kids, Isabella and Max with great pride and love. Also, his love for shorts, songs and science was obvious. In addition to teaching and allowing me to delve deep in different aspects of science and research, George taught me two important lessons and those were compassion and calmness. I will share one instance which showed how cool-headed George was - once our lab got flooded and we were all furious except George. He calmly covered all equipment and we relocated to other offices for a few months. This had derailed our work significantly, but George never displayed any displeasure or frustration and accepted this as a part of the process that we call life.

His passing has left a George sized hole in the lives of people who knew him and that can never be filled. I will always remember George, his kindness, his generosity, and his happy infectious nature. I feel privileged to have known George and spent time working with him. You will be dearly missed, and I hope you are at peace and enjoying a glass of your favorite beer. 

- Namrata Ojha

Sometimes you meet people in science who are genuinely generous, humble, and credible intelligent at the same time and who leave a mark in your life, and George was one of those people. I met George for the first time when I was a Ph.D. student in Stefan Hell’s laboratory during a Seeing is Believing Symposia in Heidelberg. At the time, I was very impressed by his work but also very intimidated. Years later, during my postdoctoral time at the NCI in Bethesda, I got to know Geoge a bit better, and gosh, was I mistaken for being intimidated during my first meeting with him. He was an incredibly kind, intelligent, and open-minded person who, if possible, always took the time to support his peers with support and advice. Every time I met him on the campus, he asked about my projects and showed not only genuine interest in my science but also how I am getting along in the US as a foreigner and listened, which I appreciated a lot at the time due to some tension I had experienced in my laboratory. I will never forget his proactive and genuine nature. Furthermore, I got to know him as a family person who cared a lot about his children and his wife — A great scientist, colleague, friend, father, and husband with a big heart. You will be sincerely missed.

- Ulrike Boehm

For the past eight years I have organized an annual super resolution light microcopy workshop at the NIH.  George taught in every one of these workshops, missing only the one this past March because of his illness.  George’s lecture focused on induced fluorescent proteins (FPs), collectively called optical high lighters, as he was a pioneer in the development of these proteins.

Students really valued his lecture, and I always learned something new from his clear, thorough presentations.  Because George could not attend this year’s workshop, he kindly sent me all of his lecture slides, as well as the link to his online webinar.  To keep his important lecture in my workshop, I delivered his talk using his slides, and directed the students to his online webinar for additional details.  Giving George’s talk made me realize even more how great George’s science was.  It also taught me a lot about George as a person.  I would like to share one slide that has a particularly relevant sentence in it.  This slide comes after he has explained how fluorescent proteins sometimes misbehave and exhibit odd behaviors.  He said “ When you got lemons… make lemonade…. or highlighter FPs!”.  That sentiment reflects who George was.  He could turn problematic things in life into something really spectacular!

When I came to this slide, I told my students that George is someone who makes amazing lemonade from lemons.  My guess is this ability played an important role in George’s journey to make photoactivatable GFP, and that it also played an important role in many other aspects of his life.  George was such a great scientist and person.  To me he was always approachable, humble, helpful, and warm, and I learned a great deal from him.  It is an honor to have known George, and I will always remember him.  

- Xufeng Wu, NHLBI/NIH

For the past several years George and I used to chat almost daily, sometimes about useless things and sometimes about science.  His lab was a few doors down from us, in building 13 at NIH.  It was amazing that we even decided to collaborate on a project that George has been thinking about.  George was wonderful and his humanness infused his science.  He was funny.  There was not one conversation that didn’t have a joke in it, and even the most serious conversation could end up with a joke! George was funny in a way that made one feel at ease and not worry about offenses.  Funny in a way that suggested never to take oneself too seriously, particularly failures in experiments.  He always said that we will win this!  Even though there were many frustrations with the experiments, it never affected him, he was always encouraging. 

George is known for his photoactivatable probes and he had a brilliant idea for doing something big for probe development in electron microscopy, which is what we were working on together. 

George also was unequivocally humble.  One would never know, that he was world famous.  He was always extremely curious and eager to learn.  George was always very inclusive and never looked down on anyone.  It didn’t matter who he had a conversation with, he always listened.  Because of George’s humility and sense of humor we did not fully know about the seriousness of his condition.  We checked on him periodically through email and until the last few weeks he was still extremely positive and was waiting for the right moment to arrange for us to visit.  That was George.  We will carry his legacy and as the pastor said in his funeral sermon, we should keep a piece of George in our lives and share it with the world.

- Maria Aronova

Rita Strack

Senior Editor, SpringerNature

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