— A key figure in the trial of George Zimmerman, charged with murdering Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, has a Mid-Columbia connection.

Dr. Shiping Bao performed Martin’s autopsy and is expected to testify before a national TV audience this week.

Bao lived in the Tri-Cities from 1995 to 2004, and was an important member of the team at Washington State University’s U.S. Transuranium and Uranium Registries in Richland.

“He was an outstanding researcher,” said the program’s former director, Ron Kathren. “I used to say that if anybody in our group was going to be a candidate for a Nobel Prize, it was going to be him.”

Bao was born and raised in China, where he earned a medical doctorate and a graduate degree in radiation medicine. He came to the United States as a young man, working as a researcher for three years in Tallahassee, Fla., before Kathren recruited him.

Bao told the Herald that he earned $15,000 a year in Florida, with no benefits or health insurance.

“It was a much better job,” Bao, 50, said of why he came to Richland. “Much better pay, much more stable.”

Bao’s job, which also included work with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, involved providing medical advice on the cadavers of former nuclear workers who had donated their bodies for research. His contributions included coming up with a unique way of culturing cells from lungs.

“That was extraordinary,” Kathren said.

After working with Kathren in the late 1990s, Bao left to become a researcher at XL Sci-Tech Inc., a Richland specialty materials and research company.