U of I professors receive awards for contributions to entomology

Two University professors, Michael Gray and James Whitfield, both recently received awards for their contributions to entomology.

Gray received the Distinguished Achievement Award in Extension from the Entomological Society of America, an annual award that recognizes outstanding contributions to the extension of entomology. As a member of the European corn borer team, he also received the Entomological Foundation’s Integrated Pest Management Team Award.

“It’s a great feeling,” Gray said. “I think it’s very nice to be recognized by your peers and the Entomological Society of America. I think very highly of all the other nominees and so it was really kind of a humbling experience.”

Gray’s interest in entomology began when he was an undergraduate student, majoring in biology.

“I took an entomology class with an instructor who was really inspirational, and to me (entomology) was fascinating.”

When Gray decided to attend graduate school, he thought back to this class when choosing his career path. He is currently involved in numerous studies, including working as a leader of the Energy Biosciences Institute.

Whitfield received the Thomas Say Award from the Entomological Foundation, which acknowledges significant and outstanding work in the fields of insect systematics, morphology or evolution.

“It was great (to receive the award) because it’s actually directly in my field,” he said. “It’s one of the awards that you want to get in this field.”

Whitfield is also involved with the Illinois Natural History Survey and has donated a large portion of his collected specimens to the survey and continues to assist there as an associate research scientist. In his career, Whitfield said he has been fortunate enough to get the opportunity to travel to places such as Brazil, Alaska, the Alps and Australia.

“It’s a fun field to go into,” he said. “It not only involves traveling, it involves being outdoors and seeing the natural world. It’s this wide open world … all in your backyard.”