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In Memory of David Boone

In Memory of


Professor of Environmental Microbiology

Department of Biology


Portland State University

Professor David Boone
Professor of Environmental Microbiology, Department of Biology
Portland State University

Professor David Boone’s dedication to teaching and scientific research will be deeply missed.

We are sad to announce that our friend and colleague, David Boone, passed away on May 27, 2005

Professor David Boone received his Ph.D. from the University of Florida in 1977, under the direction of Dr. Paul Smith and conducted postdoctoral research at University of Illinois with Dr. Marvin P. Bryant. His professional career included Research Officer, Alberta Research Council, 1979-1983; Visiting Scholar, Stanford University, 1983; Adjunct Assistant Professor, UCLA, 1983-1987; Associate Professor, Oregon Graduate Institute, 1987-1991; and Professor, OGI, 1992-1997. He joined the faculty at Portland State University in 1997, as Professor of Environmental Microbiology, Department of Biology.

Professor Boone, best known for his research on microbial production of methane, created and directed the Oregon Collection of Methanogens, a global repository for more than 841 different strains of methanogens, and one of only two such repositories in existence. Methanogens are strict anaerobes, organisms that do not require oxygen for respiration, that release methane as a waste product of cellular metabolism. He also created and maintained the Western Branch of the Subsurface Microbial Culture Collection

Professor Boone was extremely active and greatly respected in his field. He secured research grants from NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Energy. He wrote more than 92 papers and was co-editor of Bergey’s Manual of Systematic Bacteriology Volume I. Professor Boone was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology in 1996.

Recent honors included two internationally prestigious awards. In 2004, joining many scientific luminaries, he was awarded the Bergey Medal, which is given in recognition of life-long contributions to the field of systematic bacteriology. In 2005 he became the recipient of the J. Roger Porter Award given in recognition of his significant research in and contributions to bacterial taxonomy and culture collections.

Professor Boone was well respected by colleagues and students alike. His scientific contributions are unsurpassed, and he was long regarded as an outstanding teacher. The PSU community—friends, colleagues and students—will greatly miss David Boone’s presence for a very long time.


[I] certainly was thrown for a bit of a loop with sad news of Dr. Boone’s passing. Although I was aware of his fight with cancer I did not know his current health status and so was saddened to hear the news and as a result had a bit of trouble listening to first presentation. How fitting to have the second presentation on a methanogen.

In the words of poet Walt Whitman:

"I celebrate myself

And what I assume you shall assume

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you

In this case we celebrate not ourselves but the life of one who lived amongst us … and every atom that belongs to Dr. Boone remains with us and is part of us…

A student

Dave was a virtual encyclopedia and was always prepared for essentially any question posed by a student. He was enthusiastic in a teaching position especially when students expressed interest in material whether or not it was directly related to his research. He was always respectful to students and colleagues alike.

Dave never settled for brief or ambiguous explanations. On a one-on-one basis, he had the innate ability to determine whether a person understood his explanations without them uttering a word. Dave was so knowledgeable that he could provide the most detailed descriptions of extremely complex scientific subjects.

What impressed me the most about Dave was that he would reserve time to speak to anyone no matter how busy he was or how inconvenient it may have been. This was not restricted to his graduate students or colleagues. In fact, Dave made time for ANYONE including undergraduates many of whom he hadn't met before. I believe he was on the forefront of collegiate advising in the department.

Adam Bonin (PhD, Portland State University 2004)
Postdoctoral scholar at the Oregon Graduate Institute
Former Ph.D. student with David Boone

On one of my first teaching evaluations at PSU: "Why can't you be more like Dr. Boone? His outlines are awesome!"

As far as teaching is concerned, I aspire to be "like" Dave but still have a very, very long way to go. One of the highest honors I have ever received was to share the John Eliot Allen Outstanding Teacher Award with Dave in 2003-2004.

Ken Stedman
Assistant Professor of Biology, Portland State University

Dave was always positive in outlook and always upbeat. He brought a lifetime of experience, thought, care, and scholarly integrity to the department and to all of us. He cared deeply about teaching, research, and human kind, and he faced the inevitable in a way that I personally found to be as brave as is humanly possible. If, when the time comes, I am half as brave as he was, I will be very proud of myself.

Larry Crawshaw, PhD
Professor of Biology, Portland State University

Dave had a special talent when it came to teaching. Working with students was a passion for him - that and the importance of a good education; meaning that he expected them to step up to the bar, while giving them the incentive to do so. His caring and dedication to his work and to the students was so very obvious. It was a great pleasure to share classes with him and see this in action. I saw this same level of involvement whether he was dealing with undergraduates, the graduate students in general and his own in particular. He was both a model and a true mentor. He will be sorely missed.

Debbie Duffield
Professor of Biology, Portland State University

David Boone has been a leader in the field of Archaeal taxonomy most of his scientific career. He served for more than 10 years on Bergey’s Manual Trust where he succeeded Marvin Bryant, his post-doctoral advisor, as the Board’s sole expert on the Archaea. For the past five years Dave served as Vice Chairman of the Trust. He and Dick Castenholz were Editors of Volume I of the new edition of Bergey’s Manual of Systematic Bacteriology, which was published in 2001. His work as Editor was, as usual, quite exceptional. That volume has broken new ground on the taxonomic treatment of the Archaea.

Dave brought his enthusiasm, integrity and fair play to the meetings of the Trust. He spoke openly and strongly about the issues he believed in and his common sense was welcomed by all of the Trustees. His many contributions to the Trust were recognized at his retirement party in Portland in 2004 where he was presented with the Bergey Medal, the highest award that the Trust can bestow upon a member. David was also the curator of two culture collections of microorganisms and a recent recipient of the Porter Award.

Dave was also a wonderful person who enjoyed life and lived it fully. I will never forget his attitude, one of the great strengths of his character. He contacted me by e-mail a couple of weeks before he died. I followed up by calling his cell-phone to discuss the mundane activities of the Trust and other mutual interests of science. I was surprised by the weakness of his voice but taken by the strength of his spirit even as he realized he faced his final days – Dave was a brave and courageous man and an example to all of us. I feel very fortunate to have known him as a colleague and a friend.

Jim Staley, Professor of Microbiology, University of Washington
Chairman of Bergey’s Manual Trust

One thing that always impressed me about Dave was his kindness and generosity towards students with his time and energy. He had an uncanny ability to see the world from the student’s point of view and this allowed him to see the students as individuals, even in large classes where personal interactions are limited. I will always remember him as a good friend and a gentle and caring mentor.

Jason Podrabsky
Assistant Professor of Biology, Portland State University

Dave was a wonderful man, colleague and friend. As an administrator he brought great enthusiasm to the Biology department, attracting excellent faculty and new research, and energizing everyone around him. He literally helped to change the face of science research at PSU. His commitment to students to the very end illustrates the great courage that defined his personal approach to life. Dave’s legacy remains: dedicated teacher, talented researcher and loyal, compassionate friend.

Marvin Kaiser
Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Portland State University

Most of Dave Boone’s colleagues are probably unaware of the fact that his appreciation of humor was quite broad, if not downright eclectic at times. For example, not long after we first began scientific collaborations, I was delighted to discover that he was a devotee of the infamous “Firesign Theater,” a comedy troupe that had its heyday about 35 years ago. People who became “hooked” on the Firesign Theater are called “fireheads.” Most fireheads received their induction into this group sometime in the early 70s, probably

In a darkened college dorm room permeated with the odor of cannabis, and the sound of a spinning “LP” on the “stereo turntable” playing one of their albums like “How Can You be in Two places at Once When You’re not Anywhere at All?” or “Don’t Crush that Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers!” Their albums were complex and inane versions of intensely sound-staged insanity…..akin to the Marx Brothers but updated for the “hip” generation (aka: “boomers”) and totally lacking in any sight gags.

Becoming a firehead required careful and repeated listening to their albums in order to catch the all humor and double, triple and even quadruple entendres packed into a short sound gag. True fireheads cannot get enough of this, and will brazenly repeat the lines to each other, even when all others are totally lost. Fireheads can become totally oblivious to those around them when engaged in this behavior. Hence, we fireheads will miss social Cues made by spouses consisting of raising their eyes to heaven or repeated pokes to our ribs, indicating that they wish we would move the conversation along to more pertinent and inclusive items. Nonetheless, we devotees will plunge ahead, ignoring key warning signs from those around them to immediately desist from this behavior.

Thus, my typical phone conversation with Dave Boone would begin with: “More sugar!” To which Dave would reply: “Shoes for industry!” No names, formal greetings, or any other means of polite opening oral communication conventions were ever observed. We just simply threw randomly excerpted Firesign Theater phrases at each other for the first few minutes of conversation until we finally exhausted our memory banks, laughed our fill, and just came to the point of the call and then actually discussed business.

Quite frankly, Dave was the only one of my colleagues with whom I could do this… although many of them have a great sense of humor, only Dave was a true firehead. He was also a great scientist and good friend with whom I enjoyed collaborating with on our endeavors in the murky, odorous world of methanogenesis, but I’d rather not dwell on the technical aspects of our relationship.

The substance of Dave’s professional life and scientific contribution can be accessed by just reading his papers, and I’m sure that other contributors to this website will delve more deeply into the personal aspects of what a pleasure it was to work with him, and to get to know him and his devoted family. I just want to note that his love of interactive humor of course extended to his family… I heard many extemporaneous “Dohs!!!” á là Homer Simpson uttered by Dave to his son when I was a guest at Jane and Dave’s home. He also loved the inane comedy of Monty Python and the later comic efforts of John Cleese in the Fawlty TowersTV show.

So when I was invited to participate at the tribute for Dave given in early June of last year (2004), I was faced with a considerable challenge: How do I engage him, his family, and the audience at a personal level without sounding either morbid or dull by only listing and extolling his professional accomplishments? I could just have made a purely technical lecture dedicated to his honor, which would have put me on safe ground. It would also have insulated me from having to acknowledge the presence of the giant elephant in the room that everybody, myself included, was trying desperately to ignore, namely that Dave had less than a year to live.

Hence, I chose to do a live performance of the opening scene of “Nick Danger: Third Eye” from the Firesign Theater, while engaging Dave’s help at critical moments in the script. In retrospect, this was certainly part of the foundation upon which our relationship was based, and it endowed the audience with some brief insight into other aspects of Dave’s persona, and (hopefully) gave everybody a badly-needed laugh. After all, Dave was very much alive and physically vigorous at that moment in time.

But now that Dave is gone, I will certainly miss having professional interactions with him and his students. I will miss enjoying the excitement of new discoveries that can come about when different groups with different talents and insights sometimes merge to form a collaboration that is larger than the sum of their pieces. But Dave was not singular in this aspect for me, as I have several such productive collaborations with other scientists. What was singular, and perhaps what I will most miss is that only with Dave could I preface the proposed work by saying over the phone: “More sugar!!!!” as my sole means of self-identification. My personal sense of loss becomes even greater with the thought that Dave Might have also been a devotee of the humor of Mel Brooks. After all, it’s a logical extension of the Firesign Theater. As I never had a chance to explore this angle with him, who knows? If we were given the time, we could also have engaged each other by randomly throwing out lines from “Young Frankenstein” or “The Producers” while any folks gathered around us would look on in some combination of awe and ignorance. I truly regret that we never will have the opportunity to do this at a poster session of some future ASM meeting.

Ron Oremland
Senior Scientist, US Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA