Dr. Robert Metcalf to Receive Honorary Doctoral Degree from U of I


May Berenbaum

In May 1997, Dr. Robert Metcalf, emeritus professor of entomology, will receive an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This honorary degree rectifies a conspicuous omission from his vitae; although he has a bachelor's degree and a master's degree from the University of Illinois, Dr. Metcalf did his doctoral work at Cornell. At last, we can fill the gap. It must be said, though, that this gap, if one seriously considers it to be a gap, is about the only one in a career that has been brilliant since its beginning. Our department initiated the nomination, and passages from the nomination letter will suffice to illustrate how well deserved this honor truly is.

Dr. Metcalf, who received both a bachelor's and a master's degree from UIUC, is without dispute the fore-most economic entomologist of the modern era. He has worked brilliantly and tirelessly for five decades to develop innovative insect control strategies designed to reduce environmental inputs of synthetic organic insecticides. His individual accomplishments are diverse and wide-ranging. He was the first to document resistance to synthetic organic insecticides in the United States, less than five years after their commercial release; with a col-league he was the first to document the existence of cross-resistance, the phenomenon by which exposure to one insecticide can produce resistance to a different insecticide never before encountered by an insect; he was among the first to use sophisticated chemical analyses to follow the environmental fates of insecticides; he is the inventor and developer of the model ecosystem, the first repeatable, quantitative system for evaluating ecosystem impact of pesticides; he was the first to advocate structural alteration of insecticides to increase their biodegradability and to call for strict standards for biodegradability prior to registering new insecticides; he pioneered the use of synergists to reduce toxin applications without reducing efficacy; he testified compellingly and authoritatively before Congress about the inadvisability of national programs aimed at eradicating insect pests and served effectively on numerous national committees to determine pest control and environmental quality policy; and for the last decade, while in his seventies, he has been pioneering pest control methods that rely not on synthetic toxins but on naturally occurring kairomones and their analogues, substances that alter behavior and ecology rather than physiological func-tion. Dr. Metcalf has remained a leader in his field for an unprecedented length of time, at least in part, because he has not only changed with the times with respect to environmental considerations but has himself precipitated the changing times.

Collectively, all of these remarkable accomplishments have contributed to making insect pest control environmentally compatible without compromising efficacy. Thus, more than any other individual, Dr. Metcalf has provided the tools and philosophies that make pest control possible in the context of sustainable agriculture.

In supporting this nomination, George Craig, Clark Distinguished Professor of Biology and director of the Vector Biology Laboratory, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN; member of the National Academy of Sciences; past president of the American Mosquito Control Association; and a doctoral degree recipient in entomology from UIUC [deceased December 1995], said:

"Dr. Metcalf is our greatest living entomologist. He has done more for both the profession and for human welfare than any scientist that I know about. He would be a worthy Nobelist....He continues to produce great science and is much in demand as a consultant. The most recent (1994) edition of his textbook is the standard encyclopedia for economic entomology in the USA."

Perry Adkisson, Chancellor Emeritus and Distinguished Professor of Entomology at Texas A & M University, College Station; member of the National Academy of Sciences; and a former president of the Entomological Society of America and the American Registry of Professional Entomologists, said:

"Dr. Metcalf has enjoyed a long and successful career as an entomologist and insecticide toxicologist. In the early stages of his career he was involved in the development of insecticides to control arthropod vectors of human diseases. However, the use of certain types of these insecticides had adverse effects on non-target organisms and led him into work on the environmental consequences of pesticide use. Once Dr. Metcalf learned that certain insecticides were persistent in the environment and were having adverse effects... he devoted his career to the development of biodegradable pesticides that were environmentally safe. He was very successful in these efforts and developed a laboratory-sized model ecosystem in which the fate of toxic chemicals in the environment could be determined. This system has been, and still is being used, in numerous research laboratories across the world. It also has been used for teaching students about the environmental consequences of pesticide use. Through his teaching, his publications, and his lectures Robert L. Metcalf served as the environmental conscience for students and colleagues for more than three decades. He, more than anyone else, has promoted methods for developing and using pesticides in an environmentally safe way. He is truly one of our most distinguished scientists..."

Murray Blum, research professor of Entomology, Department of Entomology, University of Georgia, Athens; president of the Entomological Society of America; editor of Insect Biochemistry and Journal of Chemical Ecology; recipient of the Silver Medal of Honor from the International Society for Chemical Ecology; and a three-degree alumnus of the University of Illinois, said:

" [Dr. Metcalf's] scientific achievements have been truly extraordinary and to describe his contributions in terms anything but glowing would do him a great disservice. In short, R.L. Metcalf is one of those rare scientists whose investigative accomplishments have been eminently significant in every area in which he has undertaken research. And he has undertaken research on several topics that can only be described as of fundamental biological-chemical significance....Cyclodiene insecticides, toxicants in model ecosystems, and kairomones as beetle phagostimulants constitute examples of the remarkable breadth of his research endeavors. In each of these cases his research was eminently seminal and resulted in a "breakthrough" (no other word is appropriate) which had a major impact on the research area....I consider him a prime example of the best that the scientific method has to offer and I feel that his powerful ecological contributions have made this a better world for humankind."

Paul Risser, president of Oregon State University; former president of Miami University, Oxford, OH; former provost at University of New Mexico; and former president of the Ecological Society of America and the American Institute of Biology Societies, said:

"Dr. Metcalf is certainly a superior scientist and represents the best in exemplary faculty members found across the nation. Throughout his career, he has been a pioneer, particularly in using his thorough understanding of biochemistry to make a number of very significant advances in integrated pest management."

New Chemical &

Life Sciences Laboratory

The University of Illinois is just completing a new laboratory for chemical and life sciences. As seen in this photo, taken from the top of the Krannert Center for Performing Arts, the building contains 104,800 square feet of usable space and runs along Goodwin Avenue. Though the Department of Entomology will stay in Morrill Hall, the Departments of Microbiology and Cell & Structural Biology began relocating this fall.