Plant scientist Sharon Gray, PhD – In Memoriam

Sharon B. Gray. Photo Credit: RJ Cody Markelz

Family statement:
Sharon was such a bright human being. We have been so lucky to have shared part of our lives with her. Sharon was a passionate scientist, friend, spouse, sister, daughter, aunt, godmother, and a colleague. We are picking each other up and growing together in her absence. To honor Sharon’s life and work we have created a GoFundMe aimed at mentoring young women in science. Details can be found at the following URL:


I reach for my phone first thing in the morning and check in on social media.

This post is mainly to point to Gray’s work, promote the Go Fund Me campaign, and to hopefully make Gray’s remembered footprint on this world a little bigger.

The other day, there was a post of a sad event: the death of Sharon B. Gray, a postdoc in Siobhan Brady’s lab at UC Davis. Gray was at a conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a conference related to her work on how plants will adapt to a higher CO2, hotter, world . While traveling by car, she was struck by a stone hurled by protesters and later died due to that injury. The Sacramento Bee has the story here.

There is a memorial page with lots of pictures of Gray here.

Gray’s work involved the effects of CO2 on plant growth, particularly in soy beans. However, since almost all plants take in CO2 from the atmosphere to build themselves, her work is generalizable as well. If the world were just taking on more CO2, it may well be a boon to most plants. However, confounding factors like heat and other stresses (e.g. salt, pathogens) may mean a net loss of yield, and of plants.

Gray and Brady published this open access review of plants’ response to climate change here, if you want to get a sense of what she was working on in order to make the world a better place– the reason many scientists pursue science in the first place. And clearly, Gray was willing to travel around the world to achieve her goals.

Gray’s willingness to go around the world for her science puts her in good company of other scientists, including plant scientists. I recently recounted the story of Nikolai Vavilov, the world’s first seed bank, and how some of the Vavilov scientists died in service of saving the seed bank during the World War II siege of Leningrad. Scientists get into science because we are driven by curiosity and often care about a particular subject that draws us to seek answers to questions about the natural world. How do plants Work? How will they handle climate change? How can humans, using the scientific process, make plants able to be resilient in the face of climate change and keep feeding the world?  How can science make the world a better place taking into account science, ethics, values, and culture? These are big questions and a more diverse STEM will yield better answers.

To that end, in remembrance of Gray, A Go Fund me page has been set up for a memorial fund to promote women in STEM fields that can be found here. Please donate if you can.

I didn’t know Gray. I’ve met Brady every so briefly a few times and heard her give talks at conferences once or twice. Still, my heart is heavy at the loss of a bright member of the plant science community. My condolences to Gray’s immediate family, co-workers, and to Dr. Brady who was unharmed, but also present at the Addis Ababa conference.

In the comments section, feel free to share memories of Gray (though I do not want to take away from other forums for that and will close comments if asked to do so). This post is mainly to point to Gray’s work, promote the Go Fund Me campaign, and to hopefully make Gray’s remembered footprint on this world a little bigger.

Another thing to share would be for anyone that has lost a member of their research team or any work colleague to speak about how you processed that event. Your stories may well help someone else.

Update, 2016/10/07, 5:30pm: Sharon’s Husband, Cody Markelz, sent me the photo and the family statement added above. 

Update 2016/10/09, 11:30pm: Added paragraph with link to Vavilov and changed the line about the Go Fund Me campaign. 


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