Gopi K. Podila (AP Photo)
HUNTSVILLE, AL -- Dr. Gopi Podila, who came to Huntsville 10 years ago, predicted the city was about to emerge as a biotech hub in the new South.
"Biotech has been a hidden gem here," said Podila during an interview for the local R&D Report magazine in 2008. "You need a critical mass to be really visible. I think it's getting there."
Podila, 52, left a teaching position at Michigan Technological University in 2000 to become the chair of the Biology Department at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
"We needed a department chair who was an experienced researcher, an accomplished biologist," said Dr. Lewis Radonovich, former UAH provost. "Gopi was a highly principled, fine human being. He was a solid man, a good man. He tried very hard to support his young faculty."
Radonovich said Podila helped start the biology doctoral program at UAH. That program recently included about 15 students, he said. Dr. Jack Fix, dean of the College of Science at UAH, said the biology department also included about dozen faculty members.
Podila's areas of research included bioenergy, plant-microbe interactions, plant genetics and biotechnology. Podila said in 2008 that his department was researching fungi and microbes that could help break down the cellulose from grass and trees to create the sugar necessary to produce alcohol for biofuel.
"We can do it," Podila said two years ago, "but they haven't figured out a way to make it mainstream."
The Biology Department was the most popular in the College of Science, Fix said, teaching about 450 undergraduates. He said the biology faculty members were particularly cooperative. To some degree, that started with Podila.
"He was a leader for the department," Fix said. "He was a very warm person. He was funny and a good advocate for his department."
Rena Webb, who is working on her masters degree in biology, said Podila was her adviser. "He really is the nicest man I've ever known," said Webb. "You don't feel like a graduate student, you feel like part of a family."
Visitation: 10 a.m. to noon Thursday at Berryhill Funeral Home, 2305 N. Memorial Parkway
Funeral: Hindu ceremony (for family and close friends only) at 1 p.m.
Family request: In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions to the Gopi K. Podila Memorial Fund. Checks can be sent to Progress Bank, 201 Williams Ave., Huntsville, AL 35801.
Editorial obituary by The Huntsville Times staff, published in The Huntsville Times on February 15, 2010, and reprinted with permission.
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