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Georg Lake - Biography

George Lake received a BA in Physics and Astronomy from Haverford College, and a Ph.D. in Physics from Princeton University. He held postdoctoral positions at U.C. Berkeley, and the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, and then a staff position at AT&T Bell Laboratories along with a Visiting Membership at the Institute for Advanced Study. In 1985, George joined the faculty of the University of Washington Department of Astronomy, establishing there the emerging field of computational astrophysics. In 2000, he branched out into computational biology and became a Professor and CIO at the Institute for Systems Biology. In 2003, he became the William Band Professor of Theoretical Physics at Washington State University. From 2005 until his retirement in 2018, George was a Professor and founding Director at the Institute for Computational Science, University of Zurich.

His research as well as his stimulating ideas, often challenging mainstream thinking, have made important constributions to modern theory of cosmic structure formation, from galaxy formation to the nature of dark matter. His early work contributed to understanding the structure of elliptical galaxies and that a modified theory of gravity could not explain both the rotation curves of bright galaxies and those of dwarf galaxies, strengthening the case for the nature of dark matter. Later on, he came up with the notion of "galaxy harassment", by which galaxies change morphology, in clusters, due to the cumulative effect of many weak encounters. He also contributed crucially to the missing satellites problem, being among the first to highlight the well known discrepancy between substructure in the cold dark matter halos and the number of dwarf galaxy satellites. The notion of a "dark matter disk" which could boost the gamma-ray emission from dark matter annihilation, and that large galaxy satellites such as the Large Magellanic Clouds should have brought their own sub-group of dwarf galaxies while accreting on larger galaxies, are some of his more recent contributions that have triggered interest and many follow-up investigations.

One common thread in George's work since the beginning has been the recognition of the growing importance of scientific computing, in particular numerical simulations on large parallel computers, to enable new discoveries in astrophyscs and cosmology as well as aid the interpretation of observations. He has been truly a pioneer in the field of computational cosmology, and his mentorship of many individuals in computational science, at a time when this was just an emerging field, has left a long legacy that continues today. In 1993, George formed one of eight original NASA High Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) “Grand Challenge” teams. In 1996, he became the Project Scientist for the NASA HPCC/ESS program. One of the significant outcomes of his efforts was the establishment of the “N-Body shop”, a continuing interdisciplinary collaboration of Computer Scientists, Astronomers and Physicists.  Two major simulation codes widely employed still today, PKDGRAV and GASOLINE, stemmed from this novel collaborative effort. George’s contributions outside of Astronomy included developing the NASA Earth System Modeling Framework, and developing computational modelling of the dispersal of Homo Sapiens with changing paleovegetation and paleoclimate in the late Pleistocene period. 

In 2014, at the University of Zurich, he founded the new Institute for Computational Science, becoming its first Director. The Institute has since then became a major european hub for computationl astrophsics and cosmology. In 2013 George contributed to the creation of the MERAC awards for young european astronomers, joining the Board of the MERAC foundation. This extremely important contribution is perhaps the most visible and the latest manifestable of the second common thread spanning George’s academic career: his life-long commitment to mentoring and promoting young scientists through their early and mid-career years. A number of prominent scientists, in astronomy and in other fields, have benefited from George’s exceptional generosity and are now modeling George when supporting their charges. This too is George's legacy.