Remembering Former UW Prof. George Lake

Prof. George Lake has passed way, but his impact on Astronomy and Computational Science at the University of Washington, the nation and the world continues on.

George Lake passed away on May 24, 2019 in Seattle, Washington at the age of 65. He was well known for his research into the nature and structure of dark matter, and for his contributions to scientific computing.

George 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. 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 Director at the Institute for Computational Science, University of Zurich.

One of George’s early contributions at the University of Washington was to demonstrate that a modified theory of gravity could not explain both the rotation curves of bright galaxies and those of dwarf galaxies. Hence, he strengthened the case for the existence of dark matter. Another significant body of his work was investigating the morphological evolution of galaxies as they fell into clusters. He discovered that galaxies were transformed, not by major encounters with other galaxies, but by the cumulative effect of many weak encounters. George’s most cited work was on the substructure of dark matter within galaxies, in which he predicted that galaxies like the Milky Way should have hundreds of dark matter satellites. This discrepancy with observations, the “missing satellite problem,” has motivated work on the nature of dark matter and the detailed physics of galaxy formation that continues to this day.

Most of the above discoveries were enabled by George’s advocacy of computational science and his mentorship of individuals in this discipline. 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. George’s contributions outside of Astronomy included developing the NASA Earth System Modeling Framework, and founding the University of Zurich Institute for Computational Science.

To his colleagues who knew him personally, George was more than a great scientist. He was kind, loyal and generous, with a great sense of humor. He will be missed greatly.