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Wendell L. Roelofs

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For his fundamental contributions to basic and applied biology in the field of insect pheromones, their chemical composition and blends, their biosynthesis, how insects perceive and respond to them, and their use in insect pest management.

Studying insect pheromones, or the chemicals insects emit to communicate with one another, might seem like an odd field of research, but it’s an area that has unexpectedly broad real-world implications in agriculture and pest control.

Wendell L. Roelofs realized this fact not long after he accepted a position with the Cornell University entomology department in 1964. Roelofs had graduated with a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Indiana University earlier that year, and had no experience with insects. But his ability to decode the chemical language of bugs not only increased general understanding of the animal kingdom, but led to important advancements in agriculture and disease control. By using pheromones to either attract or confuse insects, researchers can prevent them from breeding — as Roelofs did to moths tearing through a New York vineyard — or lure them in to destroy their eggs, as researchers are doing to control the spread of the Zika virus.