June 01, 2012

Harry Mobley, PhD: Educator, scientist, soccer nut

Harry Mobley, PhD
What is the focus of your current research?

My lab works on the mechanism by which E. coli and other bacterial species infect the human urinary tract. The bacteria are very devious and use many tricks to avoid our immune response.

Why is this interesting to you?

The lab is comprised of undergrads, techs, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and research track faculty. I marvel at the drive and creativity of this group. They develop clever new ways to attack our problems. When coupled with newly developed techniques, there are always new ways to investigate our research projects.

What are the practical implications for health care?

Half of all women have at least one urinary tract infection and about 4 million women in the U.S. alone have constant infections. We are working out how the bacteria cause these infections, but are also identifying novel antimicrobial agents, and have made excellent progress in the development of a vaccine to prevent these infections.

When you’re not working, what do you do?

I enjoy playing golf and occasionally hit a nice shot. My wife and I attend most of the student theater productions, many University Musical Society concerts, and local theater productions. We are also avid U-M men’s basketball fans and travel when they make the NCAA tournament.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

I have trained over 50 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. To see these trainees move on to microbiology positions in academia, industry, government, and the military is very gratifying. Training the next generation of scientists is my duty.

What’s the most thrilling or adventurous thing you’ve ever done?

I flew small planes. One requirement of training was to land (and survive) without power. You had to cut off the power, dive nearly straight down with the “flaps” fully extended and then pull up at the last moment and theoretically come in for a soft landing on the runway as the plane “stalled.” It was a little hair-raising. If we were out on a cross-country flight and lost power, one was instructed to find a golf course on which to land using this technique. It would’ve been one of the few times that I hit the fairway.

What is something your colleagues don’t know about you?

I was a soccer nut. I played in middle school, on my high school and college teams, and in graduate school and beyond on amateur teams. I played seven days a week in graduate school. I coached kid’s club teams, a women’s team, and a men’s amateur team. I ran the amateur soccer league in Kentucky, and refereed high school and college matches. I was lucky to complete my doctorate. My advisor thought so, too.

What is one destination you dream of but haven’t gotten to yet?

I traveled a lot for one particular research topic (Helicobacter pylori as the cause of peptic ulcers), visiting 25 countries. I often took an extra day or so to do photography and travel to an interesting destination that I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to see. For example, I flew to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe from Cape Town, South Africa to photograph the Falls from a helicopter. I have not, however, seen the Egyptian pyramids or Galapagos Islands and would certainly like to.