Friday, February 24, 2012

Profiles in Smell: Julie Hagelin and John Hildebrand

One of the pleasures of a life in science is the company one gets to keep. I was reminded of this today by the chance pairing of two items on the web. These vignettes give you a glimpse of how people happen onto the strange path of becoming smell scientists.

I met Julie Hagelin at an AChemS conference about a decade ago. She presented a poster about the crested auklet, an Arctic seabird that she discovered smells like tangerines during the breeding season. She let me sniff a vial of the birdy odor—remarkable stuff. Julie recently relocated from Swarthmore College to the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, where she is turning her attention to another animal with neglected olfactory abilities: whales.

John Hildebrand is jovial guy I’ve bumped into regularly at AChemS and other science venues. He studies odor perception in the hawkmoth, Manduca sexta. The moth is found in the deserts of the American southwest where it makes a living feeding on the nectar of night-blooming flowers. John uses M. sexta as a model system to explore sex pheromones and the brain organization of odor perception in insects. He has just been elected to a three-year term on the governing Council of the National Academy of Sciences. The interview by Daniel Stolte reveals what drew John to the field as a kid.

P.S. John Hildebrands writes to remind me that M. sexta is found from northern Argentina to southern Canada in all sorts of biomes, not just deserts. That’s why it is commonly known, esp. on tobacco plantations in the southeast, as the tobacco hornworm moth. Duh.

No comments: