Entomology was first taught at the University of Illinois in 1869, and was organized as a department separate from Zoology in 1909. Famed naturalist and founder of the Illinois Natural History Survey, S.A. Forbes, served as the founding department head and established the high standards for research and teaching that have characterized the department ever since. Today, the Department of Entomology is a member of Integrative Biology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and was rated the top entomology department in the nation by the 2005 Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index. The current Department Head, Professor May Berenbaum, is the recipient of numerous awards for both her excellence in research and her popular writings on insects. Both May and fellow faculty member Dr. Gene Robinson are members of the National Academy of Sciences.
The current Department of Entomology includes approximately forty-one graduate students. In addition to the faculty, many other scientists, affiliates, and technical support staff participate in research and teaching. The Department of Entomology is collegial and research-focused, with excellent facilities on the Urbana campus and access to numerous natural sites in the State of Illinois. Close proximity to the university's extensive agricultural lands and strong ties to the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences and the Illinois Natural History Survey provide considerable research opportunities in the economic aspects of entomology.
All faculty members are actively involved in research and teaching. All share a vision of trying to understand insect life and what it can teach us about some of the most fascinating questions in modern biology. To this shared vision we bring an amazing diversity of training, research experience, and interests. We therefore find it only natural and extremely productive to work with, or have our students work with, different members of the faculty. At any given time there are usually several active collaborations between members of our faculty. These collaborations integrate many disciplines, including evolution, ecology, behavior, physiology, neuroscience, and molecular genetics. This ability to integrate across disciplines gives our students the kind of broad and interdisciplinary training that they need to be competitive for positions in science in the 21st century. Here are some of the topics of interdisciplinary research in our department: insect-plant interactions (Berenbaum, Berlocher, Hanks); molecular evolution and systematics (Berenbaum, Berlocher, Robertson, Whitfield, Cameron); development (Francis, and Nardi); and neural mechanisms of behavior, with a new initiative in sociogenomics (Beshers, Hanks, Robinson, Robertson, Cameron). We also have many interactions with Department Affiliates from the Illinois Natural History Survey and the College of Veterinary Medicine, many of whom investigate pressing problems in agricultural and medical entomology. We are especially interested in graduate applications from students seeking interdisciplinary training.
In addition to its primary function as a center for research and graduate training, the Department of Entomology also participates in many outreach activities and is well integrated in the broader biological community on the campus.