This week InFORM lost a friend, a colleague, and a leader in his field, Dr. Jack Cornett. Jack was an integral member of the InFORM team since he was involved in the analyses of both our citizen science and biological sampling efforts and was using new mass spectrometry techniques to measure trace concentrations of Fukushima derived isotopes in seawater and freshwater. This work was conducted by his extensive lab group, but as anyone who knew Jack knows, he was personally involved and invested in all aspects of the lab operations on a near daily basis.
Dr. John Smith, who has known Jack for 35 years, recalled meeting him at a conference in 1982 early on in their scientific careers. They collaborated from time to time, but really got to work together when part of a multi-year, interdisciplinary collaboration to prepare Canada for potential terrorist threats in the early 2000’s. Jack ran the program cluster that evaluated Canada’s readiness for potential nuclear scenarios. John recalls that he has “never been so impressed with the way someone ran a program in [his] life” and that Jack ran the organization “brilliantly with imagination, skill, and respect for all involved.” Jack moved on from this program to later work at the University of Ottawa where, according to Dr. Smith, he “played a critical role in saving AMS [Accelerator Mass Spectrometry] in Canada” with his leading efforts to obtain over $26 million in grants for the infrastructure and maintenance of the AMS facility at uOttawa.
Dr. Jean-Francois (JF) Mercier, who worked with Jack as a post-doctoral scientist at the Radiation Protection Bureau in the early 2000s, recalled being apprehensive of their first meeting, but quickly found out “how relatable he was and how caring he was for everyone.” During their time working together, JF marveled how Jack was “still involved in the science at the deepest level” and noted that he was “a role model for all of us with people skills, management, and scientifically.”
Dr. Jay Cullen, whose collaborations began with InFORM, remarked on Jack’s “sharp intellect and inexhaustible enthusiasm for science and life.”
Dr. Cornett had a noticeable warmth to the way he engaged with just about everyone. A superb scientist and educator with great depth and breadth of knowledge, he was able to address your questions and misconceptions with ease and in a way that provoked further thinking, but never made you feel like you should have already known. He loved the InFORM project for its direct applications to public concerns and hoped that the public would learn a new perspective of the risks posed from radionuclide exposure, how carefully scientists are working to ensure public safety, and how to interpret reporting of radionuclide releases.
Our thoughts go out to Jack’s family, friends, and academic family. Many of his academic colleagues and students, whose lives he touched and changed the course of over the years, are now contacting his wife and two grown children through social media and telling them how important Dr. Cornett was in their lives. His legacy will continue to grow, not just with InFORM results and other current projects, but also an $18.5 million dollar grant, where he was a lead investigator, from the Canada Foundation for Innovation that was formally announced the day following his accident.
Jack was giving of his time and self until the very end. He believed in the Gift of Life program and had a signed organ donor card. At least two complete strangers lives were changed forever because of Jack. If you feel so moved, a scholarship is being arranged and receiving public donations at the University of Ottawa in Jack’s name or you may give careful consideration to registering in your local organ donation organization.