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Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology

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University of Illinois professor of entomology and IGB faculty member May Berenbaum has been awarded the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest honor for achievement and leadership in advancing the fields of science and technology, according to an announcement from the White House Press Office.

May Berenbaum with President Barack Obama.
Entomologist May Berenbaum has received the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest honor for achievement and leadership in advancing the fields of science and technology.

The National Medal of Science was created in 1959 and is awarded annually to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to science and engineering, according to the release.

"Professor Berenbaum's work has fundamentally changed what we know, how we study and how the public understands the role of insects in nearly every aspect of human life and development," said Phyllis M. Wise, chancellor of the Urbana campus. "This is transformative scholarship on a global scale and has implications for every person on the planet. This is a well-deserved honor and all of us at Illinois offer Professor Berenbaum our sincerest congratulations."

Berenbaum, a Swanlund Chair and the head of the department of entomology, has been a U. of I. faculty member since 1980. Her research, which studies the chemical mechanisms underlying interactions between insects and their host plants, including the detoxification of natural and synthetic chemicals, has produced hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific publications and 35 book chapters.

"Through her inspired work on insects, Professor Berenbaum has had an unparalleled impact on the environmental sciences, with a rare combination of path-breaking scientific discovery and influential public engagement," said Gene Robinson, director of the Institute for Genomic Biology and Swanlund Chair of Entomology, as well as a long-time colleague of Berenbaum.

A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Berenbaum has chaired two National Research Council committees, the Committee on the Future of Pesticides in U.S. Agriculture and the Committee on the Status of Pollinators in North America.

An academic who is devoted to teaching and fostering scientific literacy through formal and informal education, Berenbaum also has authored numerous magazine articles and six books about insects for the general public.

She also created the Insect Fear Film Festival, now in its 32nd year on campus. The festival engages and entertains hundreds of viewers each year with feature-length films and shorts, commentary on the films, an insect petting zoo and an insect art contest.

Berenbaum graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in biology from Yale University in 1975. She earned a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from Cornell University in 1980.

She and her fellow recipients will receive their medals at a White House ceremony later this year.

Associated Themes
Genomic Ecology of Global Change
Infection Genomics for One Health
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Written By
Phil Ciciora.
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National Science and Technology Medals Foundation.