Call it a case of royalty plus.
UC Davis chemical ecologist Walter Leal, professor and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, has just received a double honor. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society and he received a coveted award from his native Brazil.
First the royalty...It's an honor just to be nominated for the Fellow award. Among the imminent scientists who've received the award: Charles Darwin.
The Royal Entomological Society, based in London, disseminates information about insects and strives to improve communication among entomologists at the national and international level. Its history is long and rich. Founded in London in 1833, it is a successor to a number of short-lived societies dating back to 1745.
The origin of the "royalty?" name? In 1885 Queen Victoria granted a Royal Charter to the society. In the centennial year of 1933, King George V added the word "Royal" to the title.
The other honor? The coveted award, the 2nd National Award of Chemical Ecology, that Leal received in Brazil is linked closely to two people who have influenced him in his academic career and everyday life.
The award memorializes his former mentor, Professor Jose Tercio Barbosa, a pioneer in the field of chemical ecology. As part of the award, Leal received a book on the Museum of Contemporary Art Niteroi signed by internationally known Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer.
Niemeyer, now a "young" 104 years old, designed the United Nations’ headquarters in New York City, and many public buildings in Brazil, including the Cathedral of Brasilia, the Museum of Modern Art of Caracas and the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, Rio de Janeiro.
“I grew up hearing about the wonderful work of Oscar Niemeyer, but never even imagined that one day I would get his autograph," Leal said. "It is sad, however, that it happened in part because Professor Tercio, a pioneer in the field of chemical ecology, passed away prematurely. Earlier on, Tercio introduced me to the scientific community in Brazil."
"Niemeyer is one of the two most famous contemporary Brazilians," Leal said. "The other is Pelé whom I've known since my years of working as a radio sportscaster to help fund my college education."
The path from sportscaster to chemical ecologist was a long one. Today Leal focuses his research on how insects detect smells, communicate with their species, detect host and non-host plants, and detect prey. For his innovative approaches to insect olfaction problems, the Entomological Society of America named him the 2011 recipient of Entomological Society of America's Nan-Yao Su Award for Innovation and Creativity in Entomology.
The circle widens, then narrows, then widens again.
Chemical ecologist Walter Leal in front of a silkworm moth depiction. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)