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Rick Lathrop – Tributes From UCI Colleagues

Sandy Irani

Rick Lathrop was a valued friend and colleague at UCI for many years. He was a pioneer in Computational Biology whose research contributions had a lasting impact on academic and industry. He was also an extrarodinary educator. He led the ICS Honors program for many years and, in that capacity, had an important positive impact on the lives of hundreds of students. I remember participating in his annual panel on applying to graduate school and always marveled at the care he took to ensure that the event was informative to the large crowd of students who always showed up.

We will miss Rick for all of these contributions as well as for the twinkle in his eye whenever he tossed out one of his exceptional puns.

Nalini Venkatasubramanian

Rick was my neighbor in the next office when I first came to ICS in 1998. A very nice person who gave me lots of advice and very fun books to read including a hilarious edition of the “journal of Irreproducible results: … He was also very involved with the ICS honors program and helped many students.

Rina Dechter

I interacted with Rick many times over the last 30 years. He was on committees of my students and invested significantly in giving feedback on their theses (especially on the quality of the writing). His care for undergraduate students was remarkable. Just as an example, he organized a panel each year to advise undergrads on how to apply for grad school, recruiting some of us to the panel. He was the primary instructor of the undergrad introductory course to AI that he fully shaped and was very helpful to Kalev (current instructor) when he transitioned into that role. He was very thoughtful and very kind.

Stas Jarecki

Rick was a warm and supportive colleague, and always interesting to talk to. I will always be grateful to him for the good spirit he was, My sincere condolences go to his spouse, Lynn.

Ray Klefstad

I remember Rick’s job interview talk here (when I was a grad student) where he discussed using AI to predict how molecules would fold. One professor expressed that this is a very hard and significant problem that, when solved, is likely deserving of a Nobel Prize.

I remember Rick as an example of how to be collegial. He always had a positive attitude and was always considerate of others. His students regularly expressed how much they enjoyed his classes and that they learned effectively from him.

Years ago, we discussed our pastime passions and shared that we both enjoyed the ocean: he enjoyed yacht racing on the water while I enjoyed breath-hold freediving under the water.

Rick definitely made UCI ICS a better place for both faculty and students. I already missed him in retirement and will miss him more now.

Wayne Hayes

My oldest memory of Rick was when he told me the story of the initial planning for the City of Irvine. It was either during my interview or first couple months in 2004. Roughly, his story was this:

They wanted Irvine to be a “world class city”, and apparently to them that meant at least three things. First, an airport–John Wayne, check! Second, “world class freeway access” (which he said with a weird grin and raised eyebrows that to me said “only Americans would think this is a requirement for a world-class city”)—and so they built the 73. Check! And third, a University…. at which point they looked around and said “Hmm”.

So they approached the University of California and asked if they would build a campus in Irvine. “And,”, they said, “we’ll give you a 99 year lease on the land, just like we’re giving all other corporate entities.” At which point the UC system gave them the metaphorical middle finger with a statement to the effect that the University has a planning horizon that extends beyond 99 years.

And so after some negotiation, the UC system bought the land that is now UCI for $1… and to this day, UCI is the only corporate entity that owns land within the city limits—residential land is owned by the residents, but no other non-humans own land here.

It’s a great story, true so far as I know, and I retell it whenever I can (with credit). Apologies to Rick if I’ve misrepresented anything in his original.

Xiaohui Xie

I had the same experience as Wayne during my job interview at UCI. He was kind enough to take me on a walk around Aldrich Park, sharing with me the history of UCI, telling me the same story. His warmth and friendliness left a lasting positive impression on me about UCI, an impression that resonates with me to this day. Rick was also generous with his time and experience, often sharing his wisdom with junior faculty members. I personally benefited greatly from multiple conversations with him.

Rick’s contributions to the field of computational molecular biology were significant and far-reaching. He was an early pioneer in protein structure prediction, laying the foundation for recent breakthroughs in this field. His important contributions to protein threading as early as 1994, three decades before its current popularity, cannot be overstated. Rick’s later research focused on characterizing p53 mutations and identifying small molecules that can reactivate p53 mutations. p53, perhaps the most well-known protein involved in cancer, shows up in many forms of the disease. Rick worked with Peter Kaiser in the SOM to discover small molecules that can reactivate p53 functions lost due to mutations. Advances in this field have enormous implications for cancer treatment.

The news of Rick’s passing is deeply saddening. His presence will be truly missed. His contributions to science and his warm, collegial nature will continue to inspire me.

Tony Givargis

When I joined the department in 2001, Rick and I got assigned to a committee tasked with designing and proposing the Computer Science and Engineering program. Despite our different research interests, I found myself working closely with Rick, from whom I received valuable insights about many things. I recall being impressed by the precision in his thinking, a deep concern for others, particularly when it came to students, and an articulate speaking style and how he phrased his arguments. Rick always maintained a positive outlook, and he continued to nurture the CSE program as a dedicated member of the steering committee for many years after.

Kristin Huerth

Rick was my friend and always just a kind soul seeing him walking with his hat and sunglasses on! He made me laugh and always approached me when I didn’t see him in the buildings and the ring. Very intelligent and I always pretended like I understood all his great work ;). I will miss him and am thankful to have known him for over twenty years.

Nancy Arroyo

I’m very saddened by this news. Dr. Lathrop was so kind. …..

Padhraic Smyth

Rick and I started as assistant professors around the same time at UCI in the mid 1990s. The current School of ICS (including what are now Computer Science and Informatics) was a department at the time and was quite small (maybe about 25 faculty in total) – my recollection is that Sandy Irani and David Redmiles were also assistant professors coming up for tenure at that time.

Rick and I both worked in AI/ML, had both gotten our PhDs several years earlier, and we were both going up for tenure within a year or two of being hired – so we had a lot in common, quickly became friends, and remained good friends for the next 25 years or so until Rick retired. He was always generous with his time in providing sage advice: on research, on teaching, on academia, and indeed on life in general.

Rick came from a very strong AI background (his PhD advisor at MIT was Patrick Winston) and he was passionate about the topic – especially in his teaching and conveying the excitement of AI to students. His office was close to mine for many years and I have great memories of hearing his clear voice “broadcasting” down the hall as he patiently explained fundamental concepts in AI to generations of ICS students. He loved explaining and discussing technical ideas, he was a true academic and educator in that sense. Rick’s other passion was of course bioinformatics – he was one of the pioneers of that field, breaking new ground and inspiring many others in his work, both at UCI and on the international stage.

Perhaps my most abiding memory of Rick will be that in any faculty discussion he could be relied on to provide a fair, rational, and clear argument for what he felt was a principled course of action. In particular, Rick was always concerned with how our decisions and actions might affect students. He had a particular passion for making sure that the perspective and welfare of students was taken into account while at the same time maintaining high academic standards.

His voice will be missed.

Pierre Baldi

To honor Rick’s memory, many have mentioned his research, teaching, and service contributions. A less well known, but at least as important, characteristic of Rick is that he was a serial entrepreneur who co-founded several companies, such as Coda Genomics, Verdezyne, and Group IV. His thoughtfulness and attention to detail were a positive force throughout his translational efforts.

Eric Mjolsness

I always appreciated Rick lathrop’s calm, deliberated, and insightful discussions, for example on many bioinformatics- and AI-related faculty committees. He welcomed me to UCI in a very helpful way, as apparently
he did with other arriving bioinformatics faculty too. He invited me to observe his large undergraduate AI class,
which was masterly. He made sure to solicit and answer every last student question.

Chen Li

Rick has been an excellent colleague and friend at UCI. I once worked with him on a research proposal, and was amazed about his high quality of writing and standard of scientific accuracy. I also talked to him about his past startup experiences, and received a lot of advice and insights in entrepreneurship. He spent a significant amount of effort in the ICS Honors Program and helping undergraduates prepare their applications to graduate programs. His positive attitude, collegiality, and professionalism made ICS a great place to work. He will be missed.

Michael Dillencourt

I met Rick for the first time the day he interviewed here. As you may remember, you and I had both missed his talk and felt bad about it because we found the abstract intriguing. At the end of what had to have been a long day, he essentially repeated his entire talk, just for the two of us.

I was Rick’s case-writer on two merits. Both times I was impressed (perhaps blown away is a better phrase) by the breadth of his service and teaching, as well as the depth of his research.

I only interacted directly with him a handful of times. Most of these were chance encounters in the hallway. Every time I felt afterwards that I had learned something interesting.

Bobak Pezeshki

I sat in on some of his classes for enrichment, and also met with him personally and was to TA for him one quarter, but that year Professor Klefstad (who I had been TA-ing several quarters for) requested for me to be assigned to 253P – which was a new class at the time – so I never ended up TA-ing for
Professor Lathrop’s 171.

In my interactions with Professor Lathrop, and sitting in on his class, he struck me as someone genuine and caring, both as a person and instructor. And as I understand, he has the same effect on many…

Isaac Scherson

Rick and I were next door office neighbors for a number of years since he joined the then department of ICS. As neighbors, we had many opportunities to exchange ideas regarding general academic life and programs. I admired his devotion to student life. He was passionate about education, not just information transfer/dissemination. He really cared for student learning.

Over the years, I also learned to appreciate his humanity. He was such a good human being. At some point in time, we started going out socially to enjoy good food and good wine. Each dinner was an experience. I learned a lot from him on wine and gourmet dining on a budget.

THANKS RICK for having touched and enriched my life.

Sharad Mehrotra

I wanted to add another dimension to Rick’s memory – his sense of humor. I recall a corridor conversation where he described an article from the Journal of Irreproducible Results which he used to subscribe to. Rick’s rendition of the article which was about how not to use statistics in science was simply hilarious! I merely mentioned that I should also subscribe to the journal that sounded so funny, and I found a bunch of older magazines in my mailbox the following day. I have passed along Rick’s humor (and a few of his magazines) to others including the statistics teacher at Uni High. Thank you Rick not only for your scientific contributions, your body of work, and your contributions to UCI, but also for enriching our lives. We will miss you.

Michael Carey

I was very sorry to learn of Rick’s passing. Being in a different sub-area of CS, on a different floor of Bren Hall, and in a different division of the CS department for some of my time, I never really had much of an opportunity to interact with Rick except in our crossing paths at faculty meetings and one time when I was a panelist for the annual event he used to run to help students who were interested in applying for graduate studies. From those interactions though, Rick made a strong impression – he struck me as a terrific colleague, extremely smart yet extremely modest, insightful, thoughtful, soft-spoken, and (last but not least) a wonderful human.

Suzanne Sandmeyer and Wes Hatfield

I am writing on behalf of two colleagues, myself and Wes Hatfield to express our sadness at the passing of our long-time friend Rick Lathrop.

Rick was a pioneer in the merging of biology and computation. We knew Rick from 1980’s when we shared a UC training grant in bioinformatics (Dennis Kibler ICS was one of the PIs). We had regular meetings in the Med Sci I conference room. Rick really led these and guided students in thinking about the significance of enriched sequences in DNA and possible biological importance.

Rick was always very creative and was fascinated by the combinatorial complexity of DNA coupled with its inherent simplicity. Year before people were publishing novel structures made of DNA he was proposing to build 3 D structures based on the stability of base pairs that might even self assemble. He went on to found a company with Wes called CODA Genomics based on this principle. The technology was simple but very powerful, allowing short oligonucleotides to self assemble into useful much longer sequences, reducing the cost of synthesis and increasing the overall accuracy of synthesis. This company eventually morphed into Actavalon and made key discoveries regarding activation of an important tumor suppressor, p53, which is mutated and inactive in many cancers. Peter Kaiser and others were members of this team. Jenny Wu director of Genomics Research and Technology Hub worked with him at CODA and expressed her sadness and what a brilliant and personable colleague he was. In the Genomics Hub Manager Melanie Oakes remembered how he actually worked during one summer to help us reprogram a robot, just an example of how he was always willing to lend a hand.

Rick was quick to express a new idea or an opinion, usually with a twinkle in his eye, and one of his several “sayings” we remember is (post expressing one of these insights) … “of course this is only an opinion and not a fact…”

Our heartfelt sympathies go out to his family and many friends, he will be dearly missed.

Tributes from Research Colleagues Around the World