George Kosaly and the social side of science

June 21, 2010

Our lab is currently abuzz with World Cup soccer highlights. We even have an office pool. But whenever I’m inclined to dismiss my colleagues’ discussions as silly or excessive, I think of George Kosaly.

Between 2005 and 2007, I worked with George on the mathematical modeling of methylotrophic metabolism. This work was eventually published as part our Journal of Bacteriology paper Formate as the main branch point for methylotrophic metabolism in Methylobacterium extorquens AM1.

George, a sharp and dedicated scientist, taught me a lot about the interplay of mathematical modeling and experimentation. What I remember best about our conversations, though, is George’s advocacy of science as a fundamentally social pursuit. This stance is, in part, simply a pragmatic one: modelers and experimentalists need to talk to each other so that each group is informed by what the other is doing. But there’s more to it than that. Working with smart, likable colleagues is enlightening and fun, so you put more of yourself into it, and better results emerge. Even in science.

My work with George was itself an example of this. George, a professor of mechanical engineering, was in the process of retiring and knew relatively little biology, so it didn’t necessarily make sense for me to invest a lot of effort in developing a collaboration with him. Yet I found him charming, and our meetings eventually became quite productive. He taught me about modeling, and I taught him about biology, which he approached with the wonder and curiosity of a gifted child. The above-mentioned study that emerged from this exchange, though imperfect, is the best one I’ve ever done, and it happened in large part because we enjoyed each other’s company. The social aspect of the work was central to it, not ancillary.

George died last June at the age of 75, but at least a few bits of his wisdom live on in my brain. Although I don’t share my coworkers’ enthusiasm for the World Cup, I’m glad they can get excited about it together. Who knows what new scientific insights might emerge from this sports-induced bonding?

George Kosaly, circa 1980 - photo from UW Dept. of Mechanical Engineering


  1. What a very sweet and perfect capturing of my father. I almost feel like I was a fly on the wall at your conversations and can even see his somewhat mischievous smile.Thank you very much for sending the link to my mother.Anna Kosaly-Meyer

  2. Greg: This beautiful. One of your best ever. A short but amazing piece of writing, thinking, and zeitgeist-melding. Thanks for writing it, and thanks for sharing it. Amby Burfoot

  3. […] in my professional development. I’ve previously discussed a couple of them on this blog: George Kosaly (a former research collaborator) and John Peterson (a high school social studies teacher). […]

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