Kary Mullis (December 28, 1944 – August 7, 2019)

A surfer dude if there’s ever been one, he was known to leave meetings or come late to work to “catch that ten foot face.”

He identified so much with surfing, he insisted on being shown topless, carrying a surf board, on his autobiography. The publisher talked him into, at least, wearing something over his crotch and to cover his nipples with his arm.

Kary Mullis' Autobiography
Kary Mullis' Autobiography

He claimed we’d been visited by aliens frequently, believed in UFOs and astrology, and partook in more than his fair share of the Devil’s Lettuce.

And then, one day, he tried to disprove that AIDS was caused by HIV. A scientifically rather problematic theory, but Kary didn’t mind, he went to research ways to prove the presence or absence of specific virii.

And just like that, he invented PCR, the polymerase-chain reaction, a way to use primers to break apart and copy DNA chains.

Today, PCR is the thing you need anywhere in molecular biology. He was awarded a Nobel Prize for it, but spent his acceptance speech complaining about his girlfriend leaving him. Another first for Science.

He was a commensurate swear word machine. Even during his speeches he used all seven of the banned words more than once, not to mention his daily encounters. He was unreliable, experimented with drugs, and once had “an encounter with a psychedelic extraterrestrial raccoon” which, apparently, he consummated a form of marriage with.

That was between his second and third marriage, the unofficial fifth to his official four.

He died, aged 74, a few months before his invention would be in everyone’s thoughts and made the front pages of newspapers. It was from pneumonia after refusing to see a doctor in favor of going back surfing for a week.