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Robinson.jpg (19990 bytes) Gene E. Robinson

Greetings! I’m glad to have this chance to update you on my activities. I enjoyed a lovely sabbatical in Jerusalem in 1996, supported by a Fulbright Research Fellowship and the University’s Center for Advanced Study. I worked in the laboratory of Prof. Hermona Soreq at Hebrew University, a noted molecular neurobiologist. With our analyses of the brain and behavior of the honey bee extending into the realm of the genes, my goal was to gain some first-hand experience to better equip me to direct the research of students and postdoctoral associates in this area. I came away with a much better appreciation of some of the tech-nical and conceptual issues in the field. I even cloned a bee gene with my own hands–but I hasten to add that nowadays this is something a good undergraduate can accomplish during one semester. I also came away with a deep longing for the kind of peace of mind conducive to careful thinking and reflection that unfortunately is difficult to attain when not on sabbatical. Only 3 years, 6 months, 2 days, and 4 hours until the next one (but who’s counting?).

My family and I enjoyed our stay in Jerusalem and our travels around the country immensely. Life was exciting and there were many eye-opening experiences for our children, Sol (now 6 years old), Daniel (9), and Aaron (13). Like the time that President Bill Clinton’s visit to Jerusalem caused authorities to close most streets to the public, preventing us from picking Aaron up from school and forcing him to navigate the city’s streets alone on a 5-mile hike back to our apartment—before he even became adept in Hebrew. We also all enjoyed a long stay in the French Alps and Provence on the way home, hosted by colleagues of mine who have spent time here in my lab. If one is to live in Urbana-Champaign, it helps to have colleagues in gorgeous parts of the world…

My laboratory is full of over 10 sharp undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral associates and an excellent technician who investigate the mechanisms that govern a key aspect of social organization in honey bee colonies, the division of labor. The subjects studied are diverse, including genes, brain chemicals, pheromones, and theoretical models of behavioral integration. One particularly active area of study involves a collaboration with my colleague and friend, Susan Fahrbach, on changes in the structure of the bee brain that are associated with division of labor. Susan and I enjoy working together, and our undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral associates (sometimes) appreciate having not one, but two, advisors.

You have no doubt heard from May about the process of reorganization of the biological sciences in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences that has occupied center stage around here for quite some time. One silver lining, for me at least, is that we in Entomology were forced to develop and articulate clearly (not to mention repetitively) the rationale for training students in entomology. We realized that our department is organized exactly along the lines that pundits say will define biology-related departments in the next millenium: interdisciplinary but with some type of unifying focus. In our case, we provide research and training at all levels of biological organization, in disciplines as seemingly disparate as ecology and cell biology but we are united by the shared aspiration of trying to understand insects as whole organisms, in both their natural and anthropogenic environments, and as compelling laboratory models. This shared vision guides all of our research and teaching, and helps make this department such a congenial and productive place to work.

Entomology Integrative Biology University of Illinois

Updated 12/08/99