Alfred Yergey, an NICHD scientist emeritus and former NIH principal investigator, died on Sunday, May 27, after being struck by a car on Saturday while biking in Ocean View, Delaware, where he lived. He was 76 years old.
Al was a leading national expert on mass spectrometry, his greatest scientific love. He headed the NICHD Biomedical Mass Spectrometry Facility for 25 years, and he ran this facility much like he led his life, with a spirit of generosity and a focus on accuracy and efficiency. Under Al’s leadership, the facility provided high-end mass-spec services to all of the NIH by promoting an active exchange of ideas across institutes and centers. Al also moderated an NIH-wide seminar series featuring internationally known experts in proteomics. His goal was educate users on the pros and cons of any given technique; and his group provided coaching on the appropriate methods for sample isolation and gel staining. He created a model for NIH scientific cores that entailed working intensely with PIs and their staff to discuss their experimental design to ensure the best results.
The fruits of Al’s commitment to detail is apparent in the more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles that bear his name as lead or co-author. Among major research breakthroughs was Al’s contribution to the protein characterization in Niemann-Pick disease-Type C, as well as a key step identified in Legionnaire’s disease infection process. Al developed methods for whole-body calcium isotope distribution, crucial for dietary absorption studies; provided the first quantification of acetylcholine as an intact molecule via liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry (LC/MS); determined the cortisol endogenous production rate via LC/MS; and characterized countless proteins and peptides. His wide range of technological interests also included ion-mobility MS, lipid-based MS analysis, and informatics tools for MS.
Al wrote the book, quite literally, on mass spec, called “Liquid Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry: Techniques and Applications” (Springer, 1990), which he co-authored with Charles G. Edmonds, Ivor A.S. Lewis, and Marvin L. Vestal. (Al also was co-editor of “The Encyclopedia of Mass Spectrometry: Volume 9: Historical Perspectives, Part B: Notable People in Mass Spectrometry,” published in 2015 by Elsevier Science.)
Al spent most of his professional science career at the NICHD, having arrived in 1977 after working in Baltimore at Scientific Research Instruments for the seven years prior. He assumed the position of an NICHD section head in 1986. He supervised numerous postdocs and graduate students and taught an FAES course, “Intro to Mass Spectroscopy,” for more than two decades. Al was also an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada (2001–2011) and a visiting scientist at the Western Sydney University, Australia (2010–2011). He retired in 2012 and was named NICHD Scientist Emeritus. He remained active in the NICHD Biomedical Mass Spectrometry Core Facility, now led by his protégé, Peter Backlund. With Peter and others, Al continued to make significant contributions to Niemann-Pick disease after his retirement, and he frequently visited the Bethesda campus.
Al was born and raised in eastern Pennsylvania. He trained as a chemist, obtaining a B.S. from Muhlenberg College in Allentown and a Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University. An avid bicyclist and advocate for safe riding, Al was a longstanding and active member of the NIH Bicycle Commuter Club (NIHBCC), co-organizing or otherwise participating in the “NIH Bike-to-Work Day” for years. He even helped design the official NIHBCC jersey.
Al also was an illustrator specializing in botanical illustration. He enrolled in a program at the Brookside Gardens School of Botanical Art and Illustration in 2007 and earned a certificate as a Botanical Illustrator in 2015. Prior to enrolling in the program at Brookside, he had no experience in the visual arts. You can see his remarkable illustrations and his attention to detail at http://www.yergeyillustrations.com. Al stated that his goal for the drawings was to make a botanically accurate representation of a plant while transmitting a sense of artistic sensitivity.
As was simply a wonderful friend and colleague, and he will be greatly missed. He is survived by his wife, Patricia Barnett Yergey; his children A. Karl Yergey, Beth Scalese, Amy Yergey, and Wendy Meadows; and six grandchildren.
A Memorial Service will be held on Monday, June 18, 2018 at 2 PM at Saint Martha’s Episcopal Church in Bethany Beach, Delaware. Family and friends will celebrate Al’s life on Saturday, September 15, 2018 in Ocean View, Delaware. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that a donation be made in his name to The Yergey Family Endowed Scholarship in Chemistry at Muhlenberg College (or please contact Al’s brother, Jim, at email@example.com), the Adventure Cycling Association, or the Oceanview Historical Society.