May R. Berenbaum, ESA Fellow (2002)
Dr. May R. Berenbaum, professor, head of the Department of Entomology and Swanlund Chair of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), was elected as Fellow in 2002. She is nationally and internationally recognized not just for her research into the coevolutionary arms race between plants and herbivorous insects, but also her engagement and education of scientists and non-scientists alike through books, film festivals, interviews, magazine articles, and speaking engagements.
Born in Trenton, NJ in 1953, Berenbaum overcame her fear of insects to become one of the best known and loved entomologists on the planet. She earned her B.S. in biology from Yale University in 1975. In 1980 she received a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from Cornell University, and became a member of the faculty at UIUC that same year. In 1984, she began the annual Insect Fear Film Festival at UIUC, exposing myths and celebrating arthropods in the movies. She has served as department head since 1992 and was appointed Swanlund Chair in 1996. She has served as president of the American Institute for the Biological Sciences and a member of the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and was elected ESA President for 2016 during the International Congress of Entomology.
Berenbaum's research centers on chemical mediation of interactions between plants and insects, with the interaction between wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) and the parsnip webworm Depressaria pastinacella as a model herbivory system and on the western honey bee (Apis mellifera) as a model pollinator species. Investigating the molecular mechanisms used by insects to detoxify hostplant chemicals and the evolutionary responses of plants to herbivory has had useful applications in both agricultural and natural ecosystems. Her research has produced over 230 scientific publications and 35 book chapters, and her fostering of scientific literacy has led to six books, a popular column, "Buzz Words," in the American Entomologist, and frequent interviews, many on the status of honey bees and other pollinators.
The 2012 National Medal of Science, awarded in 2014 by President Obama, is the latest in Berenbaum's long list of honors, which also includes being named Honorary Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society and Fellow of the Ecological Society of America (EcoSA) in 2012, and Fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society in 1996. She received the 2011 Tyler Environmental Prize for Environmental Achievement, the 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology, and the 2005 Robert H. MacArthur Award from the EcoSA. In 1994, she became an elected Member of the National Academy of Sciences and received the Founder's Memorial Award from the ESA. In keeping with her popular image, a new species of cockroach, Xestoblatta berenbaumae, was named after her, and she has the distinction of having inspired the TV entomologist Dr. Bambi Berenbaum, in The X-Files.
Berenbaum is married to Richard Leskosky and they have a daughter, Hannah.
(updated August, 2015)