He made a difference: a huge difference.
Dr. Casida, 88, a world-renowned entomologist and toxicologist at UC Berkeley who died June 30 of a heart attack in his home, was a global authority on how pesticides work and their effect on humans.
A distinguished professor emeritus of environmental science, policy and management and of nutritional sciences and toxicology, Dr. Casida was the founding director of the campus's Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology Laboratory.
When awarded the Wolf Prize in Agriculture in 1993, the Wolf Foundation lauded his “research on the mode of action of insecticides as a basis for the evaluation of the risks and benefits of pesticides and toxicants, essential to the development of safer, more effective pesticides for agricultural use." according to a UC Berkeley News Service story. "His discoveries span much of the history of organic pesticides and account for several of the fundamental breakthroughs in the fields of entomology, neurobiology, toxicology and biochemistry.”
“John probably had a greater impact on his field of pesticide toxicology than any scientist of his generation,” said Hammock, founding director (1987-present) of the UC Davis NIEHS (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) Superfund Research Program and 25-year director of the UC Davis NIH/NIEHS Combined Analytical Laboratory. “His laboratory at Berkeley provided me with the most exciting years of my scientific career. In his own work, John moved from strength to strength creating numerous entire fields along the way. His scientific insight and drive were a constant stimulation to drive for innovation and excellence. Whenever I had an opportunity, I encouraged others to join his team. John was an inspiration and role model, not only because John came in early and stayed late, but also because he did science for the fun of discovery and taught for the joy of teaching.”
“John continued his high productivity until his death with major reviews on pesticides in 2016, 2017, and 2018 in addition to numerous primary papers,” Hammock noted. “He was working on primary publications as well as revising his toxicology course for the fall semester at the time of his death. Pesticide science was the theme of his career, and we live in a world with far safer and more effective pest control agents because of his effort.”
Professor John Casida opened multiple new fields ranging from fundamental cell biology through pharmaceutical discovery. "He pioneered new technologies throughout his career, from being one of the first to use radioactive compounds for pesticide metabolism through studies with accelerator mass spectrometry, photoaffinity labeling and others," Hammock related. "Yet the greatest impact of his career probably lives on in the numerous scientists he trained, now carrying on his traditions of excellence in science. These scientists are around the world in governmental, industrial and academic careers.”
Sarjeet Gill, Distinguished Professor, UC Riverside
"This project also allowed me to build a long lasting friendship with Bruce Hammock who also was on the same project. Since John was always very focused, I often challenged John's patience with my practical jokes. I am sure he knew who the culprit(s) were but he never revealed he knew.
“The research experiences in John's lab made an indelible impression on me that drove me to return to the United States from Malaysia for an academic career in the UC system. Personally, I have lost an incredible mentor, and the scientific community lost the most preeminent pesticide toxicologist in the last two centuries. John changed the way we investigated mechanisms of toxicity at all levels. I certainly will miss him dearly.
Bruce Hammock, Distinguished Professor, UC Davis
"After telling him I was there to be his graduate student, he replied he had no money for students. My retort was that I had a fellowship. He then told me that students were not space effective, and I promised not to take up much space. He continued that students were not time effective, and I promised not to take his time. In retrospect, Sarjeet must have really soured him on graduate students a few hours earlier."
"Months later, Sarjeet and I were sharing a desk-lab bench in the windowless closet next to the 'fly room' when Dr. Casida walked in. He had noted we both listed him as our major professor and asked if there was anything, he could do to encourage us to leave. When in unison we replied 'No!,' he politely left without accepting us, but soon we both had a desk and bench.
"So a few paces after Sarjeet, I initiated the most thrilling four years of my life. John's introduction to experimental science was marvelous with the perfect balance of inspiration, instruction and tremendous freedom. I was privileged to learn from a wonderful group of individuals and, of course, I made my most enduring of friendships with Sarjeet Gill. In addition to science, John taught a life-family-science balance by example. John was my life long mentor in science and in life but also evolved as a colleague and friend.
"Three more delightful years passed and John then took me to lunch at the faculty club. As I was about to leave the laboratory for the U.S. Army, he gave me sagely advice such as he had had it easy during the Sputnik period and I would have it hard. Then he went on to tell me than most people in the laboratory did not find my practical jokes nearly as funny as I did. I did not reveal that Sarjeet had both planned and executed most of them. Thus, Sarjeet succeeded in disrupting my Berkeley career from beginning until the end.
"John and his laboratory at Berkeley provided me with the most exciting years of my scientific career. In his own work, John moved from strength to strength creating numerous entire fields along the way. His scientific insight and drive were a constant stimulation to drive for innovation and excellence. Whenever I had an opportunity, I encouraged others to join his team. John was an inspiration and role model, not only because John came in early and stayed late, but also because he did science for the fun of discovery and taught for the joy of teaching."
Professor Casida is survived by his wife, artist and sculptor Kati Casida, sons Mark and Eric Casida, and two grandchildren.
(See more remembrances by UC Davis-affiliated scientists trained by Professor Casida on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website)
- John Casida Obituary, UC Berkeley News Service
- For the Fun of Science: A Discussion with John E. Casida (Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology)
- Still Curious: An Overview of John Casida's Contributions to Agrochemical Research (JAFC)
- Curious about Pesticide Action, by John E. Casida (JAFC)
(UC Berkeley New Service contributed to this post)
He feuded with fellow entomologists, was a bigamist (married to two wives at the same time) and caused an uproar when a tunnel he dug in a Washington, D.C. alley collapsed in 1924 and some declared it the work of German spies.
All that will come to light on Thursday, April 28 at UC Davis when entomologist Marc E. Epstein talks about his newly published book on Dyar's eccentric life, Moths, Myths and Mosquitoes: The Eccentric Life of Harrison G. Dyar, Jr.
Epstein will present a lecture and book signing from 7:15 to 8:45 p.m., in the International House, 10 College Park, Davis.
The event, free and open to the public, is co-sponsored by Jay Rosenheim, professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and by his department. Epstein is a longtime research associate and friend of Rosenheim's.
“As far as how I got into doing research on Dyar, at the onset it was related to my dissertation at University of Minnesota on Limacodidae (family of slug caterpillar moths, so called because their caterpillars bear a distinct resemblance to slugs),” Epstein said.
This led to Epstein and Henson to writing the American Entomologist article “Digging for Dyar: the Man behind the Myth.”
“Since the article appeared in 1992 I've accumulated a lot more information about Dyar, his genealogy, and even more significant connections between him and his favorite moths,” Epstein said.
The book, published by Oxford University Press, will be available for purchase at Epstein's talk.
Epstein is a senior insect biosystematist for the order Lepitopdera (butterflies, moths) with the Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch, California Department of Food and Agriculture. He is a research associate for the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), Smithsonian Institution.
Harrison G. Dyar Jr. (1866-1929) was a Smithsonian entomologist of the early 20th century. He was a taxonomist who published extensively on moths and butterflies, mosquitoes, and sawflies. As a teenager, he studied insects, particularly moths. He received his bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1889 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his master's degree in biology from Columbia University in 1894. His doctoral dissertation (1895) dealt with airborne bacteria in New York City.
Oxford University offers this description of Moths, Myths and Mosquitoes:
"On September 26, 1924, the ground collapsed beneath a truck in a back alley in Washington, D.C., revealing a mysterious underground labyrinth. In spite of wild speculations, the tunnel was not the work of German spies, but rather an aging, eccentric Smithsonian scientist named Harrison Gray Dyar, Jr. While Dyar's covert tunneling habits may seem far-fetched, they were merely one of many oddities in Dyar's unbelievable life."
"For the first time, insect biosystematist Marc E. Epstein presents a complete account of Dyar's life story. Dyar, one of the most influential biologists of the twentieth century, focused his entomological career on building natural classifications of various groups of insects. His revolutionary approach to taxonomy, which examined both larval and adult stages of insects, brought about major changes in the scientific community's understanding of natural relationships and insect systematics. He was also the father of what came to be known as Dyar's Law, a pragmatic method to standardize information on insect larval stages as they grow. Over the course of his illustrious career at the U.S. National Museum, Smithsonian Institution from 1897-1929, Dyar named over 3,000 species, established the List of North American Lepidoptera, an unrivaled catalog of moths and butterflies, and built one of the nation's premier Lepidoptera and mosquito collections."
Epstein researches and writes on evolution and classification of moths and their biodiversity, and develops identification tools for moths that threaten agriculture. He served with NMNH's Department of Entomology (1988-2003), co-founding the department's Archives and Illustration Archives. He received his master's degree (1982) and doctorate (1988) from the University of Minnesota.
For more information on the April 28th event, contact Jay Rosenheim at email@example.com.
And appropriately, butterflies adorned his tie.
Smith, who curates the 400,000 butterfly and moth collection at the Bohart Museum, was nominated by Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
Smith sat on stage with the other 2015 recipients: Jacqueline Beckley, Chuck Nichols and Tony Smith, alumni awards; Chris van Kessel, faculty; David Ginsburg, staff, and John Meyer, friend.
But since this is a Bug Squad blog, we'll focus on the "bugman." (Yes, "bugman" is in his email account.)
Smith has “brought us international acclaim and saved us $160,000 through donations of specimens and materials, identification skills and his professional woodworking skills," Kimsey wrote in her nomination. "This does not include the thousands of hours he has donated in outreach programs that draw attention to the museum, the college and the university.”
Kimsey praised Smith for completely reorganizing the butterfly and moth collection. “It's no small feat to rearrange this many specimens, housed in roughly one thousand drawers,” she said. “Many thousands of the specimens needed to be identified, and the taxonomy required extensive updating and reorganization.”
Lauding Smith's “phenomenal knowledge of urban insect and spiders,” Kimsey said: “We often go to him with questions we get from the public and from colleagues. He volunteers for our weekend open houses as often as he can, as well as the UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day in February and UC Davis Picnic Day in April. Few volunteers, faculty, students or staff work as well with the public as Jeff does. He has a wonderfully engaging way of talking to children and adults, and he knows just how to inspire and educate every age group. It's awesome to watch.”
Indeed, it is no easy feat to pin a butterfly or moth. Just ask research entomologist Tom Zavorink, a Bohart Museum associate.
"Personally, I am astounded by the thousands upon thousands of butterflies and moths that Jeff has prepared for display or scientific study," Zavorink said. "This is no small task because butterfly and moth specimens are usually brought from the field in envelopes or boxes with their wings folded over their backs or around their bodies, and preparing them for display or scientific study involves relaxing them in a humid chamber so their wings and legs can be manipulated, carefully spreading open the wings, positioning them on a flat surface, and securing them in that position until the specimen dries again. This is an onerous task that many entomologists, myself included, shun because we don't have the time, manual dexterity, or patience it takes to prepare quality specimens."
Smith puts it this way: “Entomology is my passion and the Bohart Museum is my cause.”
The Bohart Museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum.
The Bohart Museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The museum is closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free. Open houses, focusing on specific themes, are held on weekends throughout the academic year. See open house schedule.
Ever been to the Burning Man Festival and checked out the art cars?
No, and no.
But last Sunday at the Berkeley Marina, we saw an art car that looked as if it could have been at the Burning Man.
It was the wheel deal.
And a car that an entomologist could love.
Assorted insects, including a stylistic blue ant, decorated the car. Excitedly different. Curiously surreal. Marvelously eccentric.
Wikipedia defines an art car as "a vehicle that has its appearance modified as an art of personal artistic expression." The owners are sometimes called "Cartists."
We've seen a yellow Volkwagen painted to resemble a bumble bee. We've seen the Oscar Meyer Wienie Wagon cruising down the street. Singer Janis Joplin ("Oh, Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?") drove a psychedelically painted Porsche. John Lennon of the Beatles wheeled around in a paisley Rolls Royce. (Perhaps it should have been a Volkswagen Beetle?)
The art car parked at the Berkeley marina, however, looked like a buffet of art, someone's leftovers turned into a heaping plate of static and dynamic creativity that begged attention. Put a fork in it and it's done.
We don't know where it had been or where it was going. Or, maybe it wasn't going anywhere any time soon.
That blue ant, though, made us think the cartist is an entomologist. Specifically, a mymecologist.
Home from the World War II battlefields, he enrolled in Compton Community College and then the University of California, Berkeley.
A family friend promised him a job in his termite control business once he finished his studies.
His college associates, however, couldn’t envision “Vern and termites” in the same sentence.
Neither could he.
“There were better things to do in life than crawling under a house looking for termites,” quipped Burton, who is known for his wry sense of humor. (Photo at right was taken circa 1980)
So began a 38-year career that would encompass 10 years as a Kern County Farm Advisor and 28 years as an Extension entomologist affiliated with the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
During his career, Burton, now 85, worked with crops such as alfalfa, beans, cotton, potatoes, small grains and sugar beets and helped resolve pest problems through integrated pest management (IPM) strategies and close associations with university researchers. “I always enjoyed helping people in ag and urban settings with their insect problems,” Burton said, “or their perceived problems.”
Tuber worms in potatoes? Check. Lygus bugs in seed alfalfa? Check. Spider mites on dry beans? Check. Nematodes in cotton? Check. Green peach aphids in sugar beets? Check. Burton helped recommend the guidelines in several of the Statewide IPM Program’s commodity manuals. His collaborative research also appears in California Agriculture and other publications.
“Vern was dedicated to California growers, and worked tirelessly to provide new and useful information to them,” said IPM specialist Frank Zalom, professor and former vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and a Fellow of the Entomological Society of America. “He understood the research-extension continuum better than most people ever could, having served the university as an extension entomologist in the county and also here on campus.”
Read more about Vern Burton and what he's doing today.
Yes, he's in the computer age!