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Former Tech professor among Alabama victims

Gopi Podila worked with many in biology department

February 16, 2010

HOUGHTON - Just days after the tragic shooting at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, faculty and staff at Michigan Technological University are mourning the death of a friend and former colleague.

Dr. Gopi Podila, chair of the biology department at the University of Alabama-Huntsville and former professor at Michigan Tech, was one of three victims who died as the result of a shooting Friday at the Alabama university.

Amy Bishop, a faculty member in the same department, is accused of killing three people, including Podila, and wounding three others.

David Dixon, who worked for Podila as a post-doctoral researcher, remembers Podila as a professional scientist who was a great family man.

"I worked with him from 1995 to about 2000," Dixon said. "I was working in his lab."

Dixon worked with him to identify the genes that controlled flowering trees and also genes that were controlling the production of wood.

Dixon, who now works as a microbiologist for the Michigan Department of Community Health, found out about Podila's death Friday evening and said he was shocked.

"He was a great guy and probably one of the finest men I have ever had the chance to know," he said.

Even though Podila was Dixon's boss, he found a friend in Podila, one that made Dixon and his family feel comfortable when they moved to the Copper Country.

"He was the guy who showed you around and found adequate housing," he said. "I moved up here with a young family. He made settling here in the Upper Peninsula very easy for us. He would invite us over for dinner and share recipes with us."

Dixon said Podila had done very well at Michigan Tech and was looking to advance his career. Podila later became chair of the biology department at the University of Alabama-Hunstville, a position he held until his death.

Biological sciences professor John Alder, former chair of the biology department at Michigan Tech, knew Podila when he was a professor at the university.

"I was the department chair when he was here," Alder said. "He was here from 1990 through the summer of 2002."

Alder said Podila started as an assistant professor and was a full professor by time he left the university.

"He was very successful here," he said. "He was a great colleague and a great role model for students and faculty. He was a very, kind, helpful, empathetic person and he loved his work and his students."

Alder said Podila had great passion for his work and his students and was also a strong researcher while having a lot of good collaborations.

"When he decided to leave, he left to move on to a bigger challenge that he was looking for," he said. "And although a lot of people were sad to see him leave, they were very happy for him. That's the kind of person he was."

Adler said found out Friday evening about Podila's death, just hours after the shooting.

"I was shocked," he said.

Alder said a great sense of loss and surprise flooded his emotions.

"It's a sense of loss for many people," he said.

Alder said Podila will be remembered most for his dedication to education and his hand in bringing a new program to Michigan Tech.

Podila was the developer of the bachelor of science degree in bioinformatics, a combination of biology and computer science.

"He was an originator," he said. "That was his doing."

Ravi Pandey, chair of physics at Michigan Tech, came to the university about the same time Podila did.

"The key contribution when he was at Tech was the start of this new program," Pandey said.

Pandey said he had the opportunity to work with Podila over the years and remembers him as being a smart, soft-spoken person.

Pandey said he received a call from Adler Friday night about Podila's death.

"He had two girls, 17 and 19," Pandey said. "I couldn't believe it. I said, 'Are you sure, John,' and he said, 'Yes.' I was shocked. Definitely shocked."

Stacey Kukkonen can be reached at



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