A group of internationally recognized speakers, a gubernatorial recognition and a celebratory dinner Saturday honored the efforts of the world’s foremost living biogeochemist — Eville Gorham.
A Regents’ professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, Gorham is ending his 36-year tenure at the University on Dec. 31. Gorham is best known for his discovery in the 1950s that pollutants which cause acid rain travel far from their industrial sources into rural wetlands. He has been studying the environment for half of a century.
Robert Elde, dean of the College of Biological Sciences, presented Gorham with a certificate of recognition signed by Gov. Arne Carlson.
“The event marks the retirement of one of our more distinguished faculty members,” said Bob Sterner, interim head of the ecology department. “Gorham’s been a leading figure in ecosystem and global change ecology for more than 50 years.”
About 150 people attended the symposium at the Earle Brown Continuing Education Center on the St. Paul campus to honor Gorham and listen to distinguished scientists speak about topics he has researched. After the event, a celebratory dinner was held at the Fredrick R.Weisman Art Museum to thank Gorham for his efforts and contributions to the University.
“I liked Eville right from the first instant,” said David Schindler, a Killam Memorial Professor of Ecology at the University of Alberta who met Gorham at an experimental field site about 20 years ago. “Not only is he a very sharp scientist, he’s an unusually nice person.”
Having spent his childhood in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Gorham said he has always enjoyed the outdoors. School teachers added to his youthful curiosities by turning him on to biology.
The University has been a great place for the types of ecology he practices, said Gorham, who started at the University in 1962.
“Minnesota is ideal because it has a tremendous diversity of habitats,” Gorham said.
Although recognized for his contributions to the science of ecology, Gorham said he enjoys working with students more than any other part of his work.
“Research with my grad students is my favorite part of the job,” he said. “It is always nice to be around young people, but I also enjoy teaching — I’ve enjoyed it for many years.”
Schindler said Gorham has always been particularly nice to young scientists — always encouraging the people just starting out.
Bill Munger, an atmospheric chemist at Harvard University who once studied under Gorham at the University, said he was one of the people who inspired him to do the important fieldwork he does now.
“Gorham has a strength in dealing with students,” Munger said.
In addition to his involvement with students and acid rain findings, Gorham found a correlation between urban air pollution and respiratory disease, studied food chain contamination, assessed human influence on global warming and researched the history of ecology and biochemistry.
“I think that the work I’ve done on acid rain is the most important, but I can’t be terribly proud of it,” Gorham said. “I stumbled on it entirely by accident, but that’s been true of most of the things I’ve done — that’s the way a lot of science goes.”
Although Gorham is modest about his research and findings, his colleagues feel he has gone above and beyond the call of duty.
“He’s a very dedicated scientist who does superb quality work,” said Gene Likens, a speaker at the symposium and director of the Institute of Ecosystems Studies. “He then tries to apply his work to large problems in terms of making that information available to policy makers, students and the public.”