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April 5, 2011 

UCS Pays Tribute to Distinguished Biologist Thomas Eisner

Father of Chemical Ecology Dies at 81

WASHINGTON ( April 4, 2011) -- Thomas Eisner, the Jacob Gould Schurman professor emeritus of Chemical Ecology at Cornell University and the director of the Cornell Institute for Research in Chemical Ecology, died on Friday, March 25. He was 81 and had been a member of the UCS Board since 1993. Eisner’s groundbreaking research on insects’ use of chemical responses to protect themselves, procreate and defend their kin revolutionized the understanding of the role of basic chemistry in the life of higher organisms and gave birth to the field of chemical ecology.

“As a board member, Tom provided strong counsel and support as UCS addressed new issues,” said Kevin Knobloch, UCS president.

Eisner’s guidance helped UCS establish biodiversity conservation, and defending the Endangered Species Act in particular, as organizational priorities. He also was one of the first to sign a 2003 UCS letter calling on the government to restore scientific integrity to federal decisionmaking. This letter galvanized the scientific community to push back against political interference in science. That letter planted the seed for UCS’s Scientific Integrity Program.

Scientific Integrity Program Director Francesca Grifo, who was a graduate student at Cornell University, remembers him as an exceptional teacher and communicator. “He was approachable and generous with his expertise,” she said. “His standards were high and he was not shy about his criticism. I am only one of the thousands of Cornell students whose life he touched.”

Grifo later worked with Eisner during her time at the National Institute of Health. “I came to know him in a different way at NIH,” she said. “Again he was inspiring, warm, patient, accommodating of bureaucracy and gracious overall.” She added that Eisner’s team produced “fantastic” work, an adjective he used frequently.

Eisner was a renaissance man. He was an internationally recognized biologist, an active conservationist, a renowned nature photographer, a superb pianist, and a prize-winning author. He received the National Medal of Science in 1994. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society. He served as chair of the Endangered Species Coalition. He was on the board of the National Audubon Society’s and the Nature Conservancy’s scientific council. His 2003 book, “For Love of Insects,” was named the Best Science Book in 2004 by the Independent Publisher Book Awards. And he won the 2005 Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing.

“Eisner’s keen intellect, passion for science and strong leadership helped shape UCS,” said Knobloch. “His contributions to our organization, not to mention the scientific community writ large, will not be forgotten.”


The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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