Tuesday, August 10, 2010

10 August 2002: Ecology Pioneer Eugene Pleasants Odum Dies

On this day in 2002, Eugene P. Odum died in his Athens home, one month shy of his 89th birthday. It was believed he had a heart attack after working in his garden. Dr. Odum's research fundamentally changed the way the world understood the environment, asserting that "the ecosystem is greater than the sum of its parts."

Dr. Odum grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and was an avid ornithologist. After receiving his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Illinois, he spent a year as the naturalist at the Edmund Niles Huyck Preserve in Rensselaerville, New York. In 1940, he came to the University of Georgia in Athens to teach zoology, though during WWII he taught "science to nurses, pharmacy-mates and pre-medical personnel."

When he started his career, Dr. Odum's holistic approach to ecology, that all life on the planet are an interdependent system, was considered unconventional. Since no textbook offered this perspective, he and his brother, Howard T. Odum, published Fundamentals of Ecology in 1953. The book revolutionized the way scientists and average citizens understood life on the planet, and for a decade was the only textbook that took a "top-down" approach to the environment. It was translated into 13 languages, and is currently in its fifth edition. The text made "ecosystem" a household word.

Over the years, Dr. Odum helped to create and establish the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (1951), the Marine Institute on Sapelo Island (1954), and the Institute of Ecology at UGA (1961), where he served as its first director until his retirement in 1984. During that time, Dr. Odum was the first UGA faculty member elected to the National Academy of Sciences (1970), helped pass Georgia's Coastal Marshlands Protection Act (1970), won the John and Alice Tyler Ecology Award (1977), and shared with his brother the Prix de l'Institut de la Vie (1977) and the Crafoord Prize (1987), considered to be the Nobel Prize for ecology science.

Dr. Odum was preceded in death by his wife Martha in 1995 and his son William, also an ecologist, in 1991. In his will, he left the profits from the sale of his 26 acres of property to the Eugene and William Odum Ecology Fund to support graduate student research at the Institute of Ecology at UGA, with $1 million set aside for an endowed Eugene P. Odum Chair of Ecology professorship. The will stipulated that 57% of the land must remain undeveloped, and would be overseen by the Oconee River Land Trust. There is now a small, 16-house development on the property, with 15 acres of walking trails through protected green space along the Oconee River near Five Points.

In 2007, UGA renamed the Institute of Ecology the Eugene P. Odum School of Ecology.

Learn More:

No comments:

Post a Comment