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Three University Of Alabama Professors Killed

by Susan J. Ainsworth
March 8, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 10

Three professors of biological sciences at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, were killed in a campus shooting on Feb. 12. They were among those allegedly shot by a UAH associate professor of biological sciences during a regularly scheduled faculty meeting.

Maria Ragland Davis, 50, an associate professor, was born in Detroit. Davis received a B.S. degree in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1981. She then earned an M.S. in chemical engineering in 1985 and a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1992, both from North Carolina State University, Raleigh. She was a postdoctoral research fellow at Monsanto, in St. Louis.

She worked as a senior scientist in the plant-science department at Huntsville-based Research Genetics for seven years until the firm was sold to Invitrogen. Davis joined UAH in 2002, teaching and conducting research on molecular biology and plant genetics.

Davis took a special interest in encouraging minority students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to pursue careers in science.

She is survived by her husband, Sammie Lee Davis, and three stepchildren.


Adriel D. Johnson, 52, an associate biology professor, was born in Tuskegee, Ala. Johnson received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Washington University in St. Louis in 1979 and M.S. degrees in biology from Tennessee Technological University in 1981 and from UAH in 1986. He earned a Ph.D. in animal science and nutritional physiology from North Carolina State University in 1989, before joining UAH as an assistant professor. He focused on the areas of cell biology and nutritional physiology.

Johnson was widely recognized for his support of minority students interested in pursuing careers in science, engineering, and math. He directed the campus chapter of the Alabama Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation.

Johnson was a member of Union Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. He had received awards for his volunteer work with the Boy Scouts.

He is survived by his wife of 22 years, Jacqueline; and sons, Adriel Jr. and Jeriel.

Gopi K. Podila, 52, a professor and chair of the biological sciences department, was born in Guntur, India. Podila earned a bachelor’s degree in botany in 1978 and a master’s degree in plant pathology and soil microbiology in 1980 from Nagarjuna University, in India. He continued his education in the U.S., earning a master’s degree in plant pathology from Louisiana State University in 1983 and a Ph.D. in molecular biology from Indiana State University in 1987. He then accepted a postdoctoral fellowship at Ohio State University.

Podila started his career as an assistant professor in the department of biological sciences at Michigan Technological University, in Houghton, in 1990. He was recruited to serve as professor and chair of the department of biological sciences at UAH in 2002 and helped to build its Ph.D. program and develop connections with the local biotechnology industry.

In addition, Podila conducted pioneering research in plant biology, focusing on bioenergy, plant-microbe interactions, plant genetics, and biotechnology. Podila had published more than 90 research papers and three books, and he held four patents. He served on the editorial boards of numerous journals.

He served as a visiting professor at the University of Urbino and University of Torino, both in Italy; the University of Stuttgart, in Germany; and the Finnish National Academy.

Podila is survived by his wife, Vani; and daughters, Bindu and Anila.


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