Image of a cell

Thomas Eisner

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For his seminal contributions in the fields of insect behavior and chemical ecology, and for his international efforts on biodiversity.”

For Thomas Eisner, insects were his fellow chemists and nature their laboratory. Multi-lingual in German, French, Spanish and later English, Eisner and his family emigrated from country to country to escape the Nazi regime. He said “I learned to curse Hitler in three languages.”

Finally landing in Uruguay, this 8-year-old’s bedroom was an entomologist’s paradise filled with caterpillars, beetles, and maggots. It was to be a harbinger of a glorious career.

Eisner spent his career at Cornell University alongside long-time colleague Jerrold Meinwald to pioneer the field of chemical ecology – understanding how an insect uses its own chemical substances to attract a friend or defend from a foe.

Perhaps his most famous discovery was how the bombardier beetle creates a chemical reaction within its body and then ejects a boiling hot chemical from its abdomen. Incredible and intricate photographs of this beetle and other insects were another hallmark of Eisner’s talent.

For Tom Eisner –ecologist, nature photographer and author, it was indeed “For Love of Insects.”

By Barbara Valentino