Christopher Contag – Class of 1978

It was early September, 1959, when Christopher Contag, an avid outdoorsman, passionate educator, and innovative scientist was born. This extraordinary man would change the face of science and influence more people than he could ever know.

Chris attended New Ulm High School from 1974 – 1978. During those years he participated in football, track, stage crew, and student council. He was a hardworking student who came to class prepared with insightful answers and thoughtful questions. His friends and teachers recall him being helpful, respectful, and curious.

Chris went on to receive his Bachelors of Science degree in biology from the University of Minnesota in 1982 and a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Minnesota in 1988. It was during his graduate studies that he met his wife, Pamela Reilly, also a scientist with a brilliant mind and Chris’ future partner in scientific discovery. After the birth of their first child, Caitlin, they moved to California where both Chris and Pam continued their training as postdoctoral fellows at Stanford University. Even during this time of long days and short nights, Chris shared in every aspect of raising all three of their children, Caitlin, Ashlyn and Greyson, doing household chores while still developing a complex research program at Stanford; often reading scientific journals to his children as bed time stories.

In 1995, Chris and Pam working together published ground-breaking research that has impacted scientists around the world:  in vivo bioluminescence imaging. Chris’ contribution to research does not end there. Chris has been developing miniaturized microscopes, 3 – 5 millimeters in size, that reach into the body and provide cellular level resolution. These devices have attracted the attention of biologists and clinicians around the globe and will enable an early diagnosis of cancer and detection of circulating tumor cells prior to metastasis. Now as a professor of Pediatrics, Bioengineering, Radiology and Microbiology & Immunology at Stanford, he continues to develop innovative tools to understand biology of complex systems.

Chris’favorite activity is observing the natural world both in the lab and in the outside world. He has spent many years as a Scout Master and has led expeditions into the wilderness, teaching the boys and their families survival skills. His experience tracking animals in the woods led to him ask, “Can we track cells and viruses in animal models”, and this led to the development of a cell-based cancer therapy that he and Pam are now working to get into the clinic to treat women with advanced ovarian cancer. He also greatly anticipated teaching his own children about the natural world, impatiently waiting for his first child to ask “why is the sky blue?” When Caitlin was four he was so eager to coach her in hypothesizing and nurture her natural curiosity that he posed the question to her. He continues to nurture young minds by volunteering hours of his time hosting high school students in his laboratory and remains dedicated to creating and teaching sustainable approaches for living and simply asking, “How did this happen and what does it teach me?”. He was on the board of directors for Lynbrook Excellence for Education, a nonprofit that promotes excellence in education, and is on the board of directors for Four Elements Earth Education, a wilderness awareness school.

Dr. Contag is clearly a man who has changed the world and impacted society, yet he has not forgotten his roots. Chris remains the humble, grounded individual that New Ulm remembers. New Ulm has a brilliant leader in Dr. Christopher Contag.