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I want to tell a favorite story some of you have heard before.

It is about the chemist George


Olah who was USC’s first Nobel Prize winner. A Hungarian, George had a deep voice well suited
to Shakespearean drama. He’d stand up at university faculty meetings and rake the
administration over the coals. Once he told me the following: “Michael---I find that most---not
all----but most—of the people elected to the National Academy of Sciences--- have done ---
something.” Full stop. George had standards and he did not care who knew it. By his estimation
most people had not done “something.” Were he here today I think he’d agree with me that
Andrew Smith, Steve Kay and Simon Tavare’ have each done something, in fact several
somethings. Guys, it is a privilege to be your colleague!

When I learned that I had been elected Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors I was
surprised. Inventors have long lists of patents just as does my USC co-awardee, Ellis Meng from
Viterbi. She is the real deal. I have a very short list and stopped joining patent applications many
years ago. The citation was for the invention of Computational Biology, something for which I
certainly do not hold a patent! As I went through the induction at the Houston Space Center and
talked to some amazing Americans, I became easier about receiving the honor.

In the early 90s I had been working for 20 years in what had become an active and consequential
area and to establish it as a visible subject at the intersection of the mathematical and biological
sciences I wrote a book. What to call it? Mathematical biology had a negative reputation with
biologists due to the University of Chicago school so that was out. Statistical genetics was
already a thing so I came to Computational Biology, leaving it general enough to accommodate
an expansive future. My graduate textbook was the first in the field, and I aimed both at
mathematical depth and biological motivation and relevance. The sales eventually were a bit
less than 10,000 copies. Around that time, I started the Journal of Computational Biology and
the conference RECOMB, research in computational biology. Today new books, journals and
conferences seem to pop up every week but that was the beginning.

Obviously, I have had amazing collaborations and support from students, postdocs and USC
faculty. Simon Tavare’ was my first recruit and that only took two years, Manhattan Beach and
an electric pencil sharpener. And many thanks to Andy Viterbi who saw promise in the area and
endowed support of four PhD students in our program per year.

To close, I want to acknowledge Steven Sample, USC’s great president who, to keep our
computational biology group from moving to UC Berkeley, went to the Trustees and got the go-
ahead to put up the building now called Ray Irani Hall. I vividly recall sitting in the President’s
office with Steve and Provost Lloyd Armstrong. I considered asking for a building for applied
mathematical sciences but knowing the dismal state of the molecular biology laboratories I went
with that. Sample loved to tell that story and in fact he did that at the building’s dedication. He
had two endings to the story: one that he told in public and another in private. All of us in
Computational Biology owe Steve Sample a great deal, and I greatly miss his vision and his
integrity.