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UC Davis chemical ecologist Walter Leal awarded Medal of Science from Brazilian Congress of Entomology

Chemical ecologist Walter Leal, professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, received the coveted Medal of Science award at the 22nd Brazilian Congress of Entomology meeting, held recently in Uberlandia.

The award, equivalent to a Fellow of the Entomological Society of America (ESA), was presented to him for “promoting the development of chemical ecology in Brazil and for international recognition in science.”

Leal, a native of Brazil and internationally known for his chemical ecology research, said he was honored to receive the award.

“When I left Brazil in the earlier 1980s I was known--at least in my hometown--as a sports announcer (soccer in particular) and high school chemistry teacher. It was great to return and be honored in entomology for my work in insect chemical ecology.”

Among the four scientists receiving the Medal of Science was Brazilian-born Marcos Kogan of Oregon State University, an integrated pest management icon.

Leal also delivered the plenary or open address at the meeting, which drew more than 1350 scientists, including undergraduate and graduate students. He discussed his chemical ecology research, including his lab’s ground-breaking research on DEET’s mode of action, which drew coverage from the BBC, New York Times and Washington Post.

“This was probably the largest audience ever for one of my presentations, except for my lectures to high school students the days before university entrance examinations,” Leal said. “I was thrilled to talk to an audience, especially so many from the next generation.”

More than half were graduate or undergraduate students. “The future holds promise of an even more vibrant entomology in Brazil,” Leal said.

Following his talk, one of the students asked him: “How can you do all that and still have a social life?”

“I was glad neither my wife nor anyone from the lab was present,” Leal related. “So I responded that ‘It affects only a little bit of Saturdays and Sundays.’”

Also giving presentations from UC Davis were Lester Ehler, retired professor of entomology; entomologist Michael Parrella, associate dean of the Division of Agricultural Sciences, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; and graduate student Andrew Sutherland of the Parrella lab.

Leal’s newly funded project, “Fund for Improvement of Postsecondary Education-FIPSE, aimed at training and exchange of undergraduate students from Penn State, UC Davis, University of Sao Paulo at Piracicaba and Federal University Federal of Parana, means he will be heading back to Brazil in October for an organizational meeting in Rio de Janeiro.

“I am absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to train undergrads from Brazil and promote US-Brazil cultural exchange,” Leal said.

The Brazilian entomological society, the second largest entomological society in the world, is second only in membership to the 5700-member ESA.

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