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U.S. Department of Energy

David was Director of Biological and Environmental Research which included programs such as the Human Genome Project, Biomedical Research (radiation biology), and Environmental Research including climate change.

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Robert Cottingham Jr.

Group Leader, Computational and Predictive Biology

Oakridge National Laboratory

What I most remember and value about David is his openness and genial manner accepting any wild idea I have proposed and being willing to intensely focus and understand and improve my thinking. That perspective and perseverance in him at a crucial time in the early days of the Human Genome Project is what I believe now made that project really successful. He engendered in other computational people and myself how he valued our insight and realized very early on that the future of biological research would increasingly depend on computation systems and automation to really advance.

I am very thankful for his early support that led to where I am today leading a computational and predictive biology group. People in my group like Dan Jacobson have also recalled fondly how David led the DOE office early on that provided the foundation and inspiration for our careers. 

Although I do not recall exactly the timing, David came to visit the Baylor College of Medicine Human Genome Center in the mid 1990s. I recall him asking if I would like to go for a walk that we took through the oak trees around Rice University and the park adjacent to the Texas Medical Center. Before that I recall he visited CEPH in Paris in early 90s when I was there working under Mark Lathrop as they created the organization that built some of the first large scale human genetic maps with hundreds of collaborators around the world and eventually provided a basis for HGP and later sequencing.

Around that time there was also an early meeting of bioinformatics people including Elbert Branscomb, Tom Slezak, Dan Drell and about 50 others beginning to contemplate and undertake the computational work required for the HGP. Even in those early days the computational people were worried about how the various centers working independently on “their” chromosomes would ever bring the overall effort together. Without David and people he convinced at DOE and NIH, that these centers needed to have common standards as eventually instantiated in independent assessments and the Bermuda Principles the project would suffer. Coincidentally now I am having the same insight about bioinformatics software working on a white paper to address a similar problem.

David then went on to found Darwin Molecular as one of the first independent startups building on the evolving biological and computational technologies directed at novel drug discovery, and later invited me to join overseeing the bioinformatics and computational efforts. 

Few people in those early days had the background insight and openness to see the future the way David did. I will always value and appreciate how much that has meant to me and many bioinformatics and computational biology researchers since. His vision and motivation has benefitted not only all of those researchers, but really paved the way for the future of biological research and untold others who are benefitting from new insights and therapies that would not have happened otherwise.


Today I am CoPI on a project we call KBase, the DOE Systems Biology Knowledgebase, that now has more than 25000 researchers uploading their data, developing and using computation methods and workflows leading to hundreds of publications. That is a legacy for the future that David generously supported and promoted as few others could, and generations will benefit from. I am extremely thankful for his vision and generous support.


Bob Cottingham

Group Leader, Computational and Predictive Biology

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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Daniel Drell

Program Manager (Retired)

Office of Biological and Environmental Research

Department of Energy

Thoughts on David Galas


My first meeting with David Galas was at a sad occasion, the funeral service at West Point, of his brother-in-law, US Army Colonel Tom Johnson. This would have been in 1990. I had met Tom a few times through his working association, then close friendship, with my father. One outcome of this acquaintance was a poker game involving Tom, Vic Reis, Al Trivelpiece, and me. (At the end of that evening, it was clear Trivelpiece,  the recent Director of what was then called the Office of Energy Research) was the superior poker player to the rest of us.) By the time I first met David at West Point, I had heard of this exotic and exciting project to sequence the entire human genome and wanted to be a part of it. DOE turned out to be vastly more approachable than NIH and thanks to David, I hired on in 1991. 


I remember the roughly 3 ½ years I worked in OHER with David as the Associate Director being extraordinarily exciting, at least from my perspective. We were guiding a large incredibly important project and OUR leader, (in contrast to James D. Watson at NIH), was steady, calm, and mission focused. It wasn’t just that David’s HGP effort avoided mistakes (viz. the “Genetic Factors in Crime” conference the NIH chose to fund, then changed its mind when public controversy arose), it was his vision of what would be critically important to its success, I.e. technologies and computation. My responsibility initially was the ELSI program, looking at the ethical, legal, and social issues we knew would arise. It was David’s decision to focus principally on issues surrounding privacy and education; working on these proved highly rewarding. My professional relationship began when I asked for and was given the ELSI portfolio to look after and manage. When NIH elected, suddenly and surprisingly, to file for patent protection on short cDNA sequences generated in the (at that time) NIH lab of J. Craig Venter, setting off a storm of controversy, David asked me to monitor those developments. 


One very fond and special memory is that David often got a ride to his office in Germantown from Diane, who would then drive to the HUGO office in Bethesda. This left David without a ride home which, since his townhouse was on my way, meant I frequently provided him a ride. Talk about an opportunity to learn how the HGP, the DOE, parts of the Executive Branch worked (or, sometimes, didn’t)!


David’s contributions were many and varied. From my perspective in OHER, the most significant was his steady management of the HGP and the emphasis he instituted on new technologies and especially computational tools both for managing the increasing amounts of DNA sequence data and the tools to make it accessible and useful. While his initiative to start a competing sequence database capable of dealing with larger and longer DNA sequences ultimately petered out, it forced NCBI to do what it should have done much earlier and reconfigure itself to input longer sequences that made the human genome sequence, once realized, vastly more useful. While this is my view of his most significant accomplishment, there were others of at least comparable importance, among them reaching out to scientists in the just-dissolved Soviet Union to get involved in the HGP (and thus NOT get involved in bioweapons programs, etc.), redirecting OHER to broaden its science and, one that affected me later, pushing for the introduction of genomics into environmental biology programs in OHER. All this was evident early in his tenure and was very nicely written up by Leslie Roberts in Science, 26 April, 1991 (link at top of page). That article still reads well and well describes the conceptual roadmap David instituted and promulgated in the three years we overlapped. 


While the HGP had many aspects of a football drive, with a clear “endzone” we were “advancing down the field” towards, with readily explainable “yardage markers” to assess progress, David always recognized it was science also, that the entire purpose of doing the HGP was to enable science that, in 1991, simply couldn’t be done. We all recognized, David more clearly than most, that post-HGP biomedical science would be very different than pre-HGP science, not just in speeding it up but in making possible types of science previously unimagined. 


Hiring in to OHER early in David’s time as AD was the luckiest day, professionally, of my life. The words “thank you!” are inadequate to express my gratitude.



Dan Drell

Retired, DOE Program Manager



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Randall Kincaid

Senior Scientific Officer (Retired)

National Institutes of Health

Consultant, Infectious Disease (current)

David has made many noteworthy contributions, but the following vignette shows his “guiding hand” even when acting as an observer.  When I headed up the Transformational Medical Technologies (TMT) program at DTRA, the DoD convened an expert group of advisors (the JASONs) in 2010 to opine on what could be done with a $100 genome. David was asked to provide input along with a number of other outside observers. I certainly appreciated what most people felt was scientifically important – that we could connect the dots to better understand disease tendencies if we had a detailed description of person’s genome. However, I was much more interested in the genomic details of a specific collection of genes (HLA) that are likely to be essential to a better understanding of our immune potential and disease susceptibility, particularly for infectious agents.


During my presentation, I developed that idea and indicated that it would be important to focus some of our efforts and technology resources on a detailed evaluation of these genes (I was supporting Ron Davis at Stanford to do exactly that). I must say that this stated goal was met with some surprise, if not derision (or at least it seemed so), because the JASONs felt if you could get an entire genome wouldn’t that information be present without needing to call it out specifically? I pointed out that this set of genes were remarkable in their diversity, having been duplicated many times during evolution, and that whole genome sequencing would simply not be adequate to define them (the data would create a “blur” since sequences of very high similarity would be detected). At this point, David took it upon himself to interject that I was correct that the detail needed for these genes would be impossible to glean directly from whole genome sequence data.


I was very grateful to have his support in that moment and it made a real difference, including the specific recommendation to collect data relevant to HLA allelic diversity. The scope of use that the JASONs envisioned for whole genome data was very broad, and there were many roadblocks to implementing the general notion of creating a genomic database within the DoD. However, without David’s input, it seems unlikely that understanding HLA diversity and its meaningfulness to disease (and its prevention) would have been recognized as being a priority for future sequencing efforts.  


That episode is my little contribution to show just one instance of how important an influence David has been, both in terms of technical understanding and insights, as well as visualizing efforts that could create meaningful advances in medicine. As it turned out, the TMT-funded effort at Stanford was successful and the technology for detailed sequencing of individual HLA genes was sold to Immuncor to support its business efforts in organ and hematopoietic cell transplantation. 

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Rachel Levinson

Executive Director, National Research Initiatives,

Arizona State University (current)

Office of Science and Technology Policy (1989-1992 and 1993-2005)

My thanks to David and Diane

I first met David Galas when he arrived in Washington DC from USC in 1990 to take over as director of the DOE Office of Health and Environmental Research. On paper, he looked ideal for this position having trained as a physicist while having a background that included the application of molecular biology to understanding DNA transposition in living cells. His genetics expertise proved helpful in working with Francis Collins to manage the Human Genome Project. David’s DOE National Laboratory experience was also helpful in fitting in with the department and gave him insights that would prove useful in negotiating agency dynamics.  

In person, his open demeanor and apparent enthusiasm for learning the ways of Washington in all its messiness, was a huge plus. Little did I realize at the time how much I would come to appreciate his sense of humor and willingness to persevere undaunted even when faced with hurdles posed by bureaucracy, turf battles and the glacial pace that bogs down the most simple actions in government.


One example that stands out was a request that made absolutely no sense. David’s team prepared a report that relied on color representation to explain the role of fractals in form and function. David was told that the colorful brochure appeared to be too extravagant for a report going to Congress and that it should be reprinted in black and white, thereby losing the depiction of the central concept. I give him full credit for absorbing this nonsensical instruction with graceful bemusement.  

David also demonstrated a natural talent for orchestrating group consensus, even in the face of competing interests. Leading an interagency committee undoubtedly fits the description of herding cats with the added frisson of engendering outright paranoia. Whether out of patriotism or blissful ignorance, Galas agreed to chair the Biotechnology Research Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Committee. One of the assignments of such a group is to develop a “budget crosscut,” identifying dollar commitments member agencies commit to topics the group defines as priorities under this rubric. Agencies exercise a bit of leeway in how they interpret the definitions, with the threat of external oversight demanding that the figure be raised or lowered by department leadership, the Office of Management and Budget or, heaven forbid, congressional appropriators. Naturally, this can lead to a justifiable fear of reporting a number deemed to be too low or too high or even worse, duplicative with another agency(ies). That David was able to steer the group to consensus was an achievement of the highest order, at least within our (arguably parochial) bureaucratic circle. I have fond memories of meetings in the Aerospace Building with people who remain friends to this day, keeping in mind that I did not have a budget at risk… We all owe David thanks for those and many other occasions.    


The bond that comes from having shared time in the trenches is unique and has been strengthened with recognition of David’s continuing contributions to the body of scientific knowledge underpinning development of diagnostics based on a keen understanding of the human immune system. Over the years, it has been my great pleasure as my husband’s and my relationship with David (or DG) and Diane has grown and deepened. We are grateful to have shared this wonderful journey.   


Rachel E. Levinson

Executive Director, National Research Initiatives

Arizona State University


Office of Science and Technology Policy



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Ari Patrinos

Visiting Scholar

NYU Center for Neural Sciences (current)

I have kept detailed daily notes during most of my professional career. These notes have proven useful in several cases when I (or others) needed to reflect on events that at the time did not appear significant.

My notes tell me that on the 4th of December 1989 I was meeting with Tom Johnson who was helping me "scheme" in getting our climate change research programs accepted by DOE and OMB. At some point, Tom told me to have a "communication with David Galas at 213-743-4934."


At the time I was the "acting" director of the newest division of OHER focusing on the global climate change problem. Charles DeLisi had left OHER and Bob Wood was the acting OHER director. I was aware that the ER front office was trying to get an IPA to lead OHER mostly because the sense was that the OHER biological programs needed to be "shaken up," and especially because the proposed Human Genome Project (HGP) required bold action and innovative thinking.


I called David and we had a brief chat. He told me he was still considering taking the job and wanted to meet with me to discuss the environmental parts of OHER that he was not very familiar with.

I was reassured that despite his priorities mostly focusing on the biological parts of OHER he still wanted to make sure the environmental pieces were not shortchanged. Subsequent in-person meetings (starting in April 1990) after he joined DOE confirmed his commitment and it was further reinforced by his restructuring of OHER to merge the environmental pieces into one division creating a whole greater than the sum of the parts.

I was also very supportive of his stated objectives that stressed: Technical Excellence, Collaboration of DOE Labs with Universities, and Sabbaticals for Lab Scientists. The first two were manageable, the third is a real stretch.


My first and lasting impression was that David was a breath of fresh air that was desperately needed in OHER.


I was director of one of the three divisions of OHER so I was a direct report to him. His principal focus was on making sure the HGP was properly launched and managed. However, he also invested significant efforts in restructuring the other biological and medical programs in OHER. He did not neglect the environmental programs, especially the climate change pieces that were receiving considerable attention by our political masters and were also threatened by predictable interagency rivalries. Whenever it was necessary, he did not hesitate to "mix it up" in some of the heated interagency battles.


My favorite anecdote is in fact much longer than an anecdote! Despite my principal focus on the environmental programs, David made a point of educating me about genomics-genetics in general and the HGP in particular. Over the three years of our frequent interactions, I became more and more convinced of the great value and potential of the HGP to revolutionize biological R&D and contribute significant advances not only in medicine but also in environmental and climate change related challenges. I became one the HGP's champions that also enabled me to follow David at the helm of OHER after his departure to the private sector and subsequent related pursuits. 


As far as I am concerned, David's leadership of the HGP gave substance and a unique mission to the DOE piece of this major research endeavor. He also played a major role in the planning and implementation of the national and international dimensions of the HGP at the very critical stages of its growth. At a more parochial level he managed to revive the other biological/medical pieces of OHER thus rescuing them from oblivion.


In my life I have been privileged to enjoy the friendship and camaraderie of many. I single out David and I cherish both the professional and personal times we enjoyed together, including the food, wine, and cigars we indulged in. Our reflections on science, politics, history, and culture have a special place in my heart.


Ari Patrinos  

Visiting Scholar

NYU Center for Neural Sciences

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David Smith

PhD, Director (Retired)

Life Sciences Research Division

U.S. Department of Energy

I first met David Galas when one morning it was announced that two faculty members from USC (my PhD alma mater) were coming to visit and wanted to chat with some of us. Well, in walked these two guys at least one of whom was wearing shorts, and both oozed laid back Southern California beach bum style. One of these two USC gentlemen was David Galas. I don't remember the name of the other fellow. We chatted for a while and then they left. Immediately a rumor went around the office that one of these guys was going to be our new Office Director. Sure enough a few weeks later we learned it would be David Galas.


I soon learned that David was a very smart guy, with lots of charm and an easy-going manner. David made friends easily and was a very popular Director. We became close partners in working on the Human Genome Project, as well as other things. As far as I was concerned, he left DOE far too soon.


Among my favorite times with David was when David, Diane, Carolyn and I took a trip to Grenoble, France. David and I went to tour the neutron source outside Grenoble while Diane and Carolyn toured the Grenoble shops. Carolyn fell on a patch of ice, hurting her knee, an injury which stayed with her for some time.  At one point the four of us were walking through an open-air market. Carolyn had remarked that she didn't know what she was ordering when looking at menus in French. David immediately said, "Don't order cheval, which is French for horse." It turns out that many French grew fond of cheval during the dark days of German occupation during World War II. After completing our business at the neutron source, Carolyn and I took the fast train to Paris, while David and Diane went off in a different direction. Perhaps they went to Toulouse, where David had worked for a while as I remember. Later we met again in Paris where David and I attended a meeting regarding the Human Genome Project.


Another time David and Diane came to spend part of a day with Carolyn and I at our home below Greenbriar State Park. David and I decided to take a loop bike ride of a few miles. The loop started out with a long climb up what the locals around here call a mountain. My bike had many more gears than David's and was much better suited for a long uphill slog. I was able to slowly peddle to the top but David was forced to walk part of the way up. After reaching the top we went on a flat for a mile or two till the road reached the highway and we rapidly went downhill to our house. A good workout!


The details of our work together on the Genome Project have become kind of jumbled in my mind but it was a close collaboration. I was impressed that no matter what the provocation (and there were many), David never seemed to lose his good humor.


Another thing I have never forgotten is that David and I shared the same birthday, February 25th. However, I was born ten years earlier.


David was an excellent scientific leader for DOE's Office of Health and Environmental Research. He had a broad understanding of science, was quick to make connections with the scientific leaders of other government agencies and clearly advanced our research in many and varied areas.


I always considered David a good friend and a great leader for our Office.

David has had a very remarkable and productive career! I'm truly impressed.


Dr. David A. Smith (Retired)


Life Sciences Research Division

U.S. Department of Energy

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Sylvia J. Spengler

Program Officer

Information and Intelligent Systems,

Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering

National Science Foundation (current)

Years ago, I heard David lecture during a summer course when he was in Geneva. I thought he was smart and looked at the world in ways that felt familiar. I did not know then that he has a much-admired talent, recognizing foolishness and sloppy thinking a mile away. But when he came to DOE, that was instantly apparent. 


But David also has an expansive view of possibility, and that gave DOE and the Genome Project fuel for innovation and engagement, in ELSI, in methodology, in leadership. And he took all that skill to other places that achieved more because he was there. His productivity and insight have served science well.  

I am lucky to know him.


Sylvia Spengler

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