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Wine taste evaluations – Charles W. Gehrke Distinguished Lecture March 29, 2012

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Oliver Fiehn of the University of California, Davis, will speak at 3:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 18, 2012 about developing an objective chemical basis for taste evaluations of wine. His lecture will be held in the Monsanto Auditorium of the Bond Life Science Center at the University of Missouri.

His presentation is sponsored by the 2012 Charles W. Gehrke Distinguished Lecture which is a part of Life Sciences Week at the University of Missouri.

Fiehn is a professor of molecular and cellular biology, director of Metabolomics Core Facility at the UC Davis Genome Center at the University of California-Davis. According to materials outlining the lecture, Fiehn “pioneers new ways to characterize and analyze non-protein molecules.” He uses analytical techniques, many of which he developed, to identify biomarkers for cancer diagnosis, characterize patient responses to drug therapies, explore algae to produce biofuels and evaluate wine, among other research areas.

His research is supported by five National Institutes of Health grants, the National Science Foundation and private and public supporters.

The lecture is the namesake of Charles W. Gehrke, who died in 2009. He was renowned in the field of chromatography, pioneered cancer detection methods, was one of the scientists involved in analyzing the moon rocks brought back from the NASA Apollo missions and founded ABC Labs, a company which employs nearly 400 people. He was a professor of biochemistry at the University of Missouri for 37 years.

NASA and Charles W. Gehrke September 14, 2011

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Today’s NY Times article about NASA announcement about developing a powerful rocket to take astronauts into deep space could make it easy to forget how uncertain space travel even to the moon once was.

The history of NASA’s early plans to land on the moon is part of the still to be published autobiography of Charles W. Gehrke, From the Melon Fields to the Moon.

In researching for the book, I found a recording of an interview of Charles for a University of Missouri radio program called “University Up-Close.” The program is archived and made available by University Archives, Division of Special Collections, Archives and Rare Books of the MU Libraries at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

In the program, Charles says,

“I doubt there’s much question that what we might find will be either one of two things: We’ll find absolutely nothing except for a bunch of rocks with all the inorganic material in them or it will be at the other extreme, that there will be considerable organic materials in these samples as well as even the possibility as rather complex organic molecules. I really believe we will find these molecules.” (Material provided by the University Archives, University of Missouri-Columbia.)

Today, we take it for granted there’s no life on the moon and no danger of killer germs from our nearest space neighbor, but at the time, when the first person walked on the moon on July 20, 1969, things weren’t as certain.

But what’s important is that Charles and his team of scientists — like those at NASA today — persevered despite the unknowns at the time. That’s a powerful lesson Charles’ autobiography can still teach us, that it is persistence that makes the difference between success and failure.

 

 

ABC Labs’ CEO Byron Hill steps down September 7, 2011

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ABC Labs saw Bryon Hill, its CEO depart suddenly according to reports on Sept. 2, 2011 in an article headlined “Hill retires as CEO of ABC Labs,” by Jacob Barker in the Columbia Daily Tribune.

But as the book From the Melon Fields to the Moon shows, ABC Labs has had many unusual departures of CEOs and ups and downs.

The company was started by Charles W. Gehrke with Jim Ussary, who would go on to become its first CEO, David Stalling, who would later work for ABC Labs and spin off a company from the firm, and a fourth man, rarely mentioned, who was bought out early in ABC Lab’s history.

Ussary headed up the firm from its inception in 1968 until 1975, the same year the company posted its first positive net income, $86,501. Ralph Waltz took over as CEO, but some say he was forced out in 1990. By then the company posted $1.1 million in net profit. Larry Stambaugh took over until 1992, with his shift from leadership preceded by a vicious and very public stockholders fight, described in detail in a July 24, 1992, Columbia Daily Tribune article headlined, “ABCs of a corporate battle,” written by Theodore P. Roth.

The next CEO was Jake Halliday, now the CEO of the Missouri Innovation Center. Hill took over from Halliday in 2004 and oversaw the company during an expansion phase which has included moving to Discovery Ridge, expanding its campus on Interstate 70.

Yet, despite the history of ABC Labs, the company has thrived through the decades, going from one employee to its current 350-person staff.

The story of how the company has continued, with its ups and downs, is part of the story of Charles W. Gehrke’s life in the book he wrote prior to his 2009 death, From the Melon Fields to the Moon. The first three chapters of the book are available here.

 

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