Sharon Gray was a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Scholar in my lab at UC Davis for the past 3 years. We had just started a project where we were co-investigators in a project with the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO) as principal investigator and which was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Our kick-off meeting was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where she passed away.
Sharon was a very special person in my lab group and within the university. She possessed an uncommon kindness coupled with exceptional intelligence. Her research was dedicated towards understanding plants’ responses to climate change. Her graduate work focused on the response of soybean plants to high carbon dioxide in the presence of drought and showed that plants did not respond as the scientific community had previously anticipated. Previous research had suggested that plants would have a higher yield in high carbon dioxide; in the presence of drought, however, these increases were not observed. This work showed that more research is needed to face our agricultural challenges in the future of climate change. She had just finished her NSF-funded project characterizing the responses of a drought-tolerant wild and drought-sensitive domesticated species of tomato. I anticipate that once published, these results will also provide important perspective needed when breeding plants in environments that are changing.
Sharon was a true expert in her field of root development and plant physiology. She had a very bright future ahead of her and I was sure she was to be a leader in plant biology and a wonderful mentor. As a postdoc in my lab she was a valuable team member, mentor and friend. We were looking forward to exploring Ethiopia together and working with the bright scientists we met over the last few days. I have been asked to share some thoughts about Sharon and what she was like – she loved her husband, family, friends, science and the outdoors. She had an infectious smile and giggle, a calm and patient nature and she was truly committed to helping people through her studies of plant biology. I and her colleagues and friends in my lab will miss her intensely. These last hours of her life and the past day have been incredibly difficult and we ask for your respect for the privacy of my lab group, our project members and her colleagues while we mourn. I attach below a picture of Sharon and I in Ethiopia. We were truly wonderstruck by the beauty of the countryside in Holetta, Ethiopia.