Perry-born ‘bug doctor’ to head Entomological Society of America

Bob Peterson, a Perry native and professor of entomology at Montanan State University, has been named vice president-elect of the Entomological Society of America.

Bob Peterson, entomology professor in the Montana State University College of Agriculture’s Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, was recently named vice president-elect of the Entomological Society of America (ESA).

The Perry native will begin his term in October at the ESA’s annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., and then serve as vice president in 2018, president in 2019 and past president in 2020.

“The ESA is the world’s largest organization that represents and serves entomologists,” Peterson said, “and it’s an honor to be elected by its 7,000 members. As the recent Zika disease crisis has shown us, the need remains strong for entomologists and research on insects.”

Peterson is a 1983 graduate of Perry High School. He said he traces his love of science to his days at the Perry Junior High School.

“Putting together an insect collection as part of seventh grade science at the junior high made a lasting impression on me,” he said. “Mr. Fox made science fun in eighth grade, but he expected a lot of us students. He gave me confidence that I could be a scientist.”

Peterson eventually studied entomology at Iowa State University, where he also finds a connection with his Perry academic experiences.

“In high school, I took a unit on ecology that had a big influence on my college choice and curriculum at Iowa State University,” he said. He took a Ph.D. in Entomology at University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1995 and has been an MSU faculty member since 2002.

Peterson’s father, Robert Peterson Sr. of Perry, said he recognized his son’s interest in entomology early in childhood.

“He’s always been interested in insects,” Peterson said. “I remember taking him fishing with me as a kid, and he’d always be turning over rocks and looking for bugs.”

Peterson said he is proud of all his children’s accomplishments. His eldest daughter has a master’s degree in education and recently retired from teaching developmentally disabled students. His middle child is a pharmacist, and his youngest, Robert Jr., is a college professor.

“My mother-in-law used to say that my son was a bug doctor,” the elder Peterson said, “and I told her that I didn’t know bugs needed doctors.”

Robert Peterson Jr. leads MSU research in agricultural and biological risk assessment. His work centers on comparative risk assessment, including biotechnology risk, invasive species risk and pesticide risk.

His said his other research interests include insect ecology, plant-stress ecophysiology and integrated pest management. He has authored or co-authored 104 peer-reviewed publications, 13 book chapters and one book.

Peterson also teaches undergraduate and graduate courses, including environmental risk assessment, insect ecology and various special-topics graduate courses, and he directs MSU’s online master’s degree program in environmental sciences.

Peterson joined the ESA in 1985 and has been engaged in both program and governance activities, chairing the group’s annual meeting in 2007. He has been a contributing co-editor of American Entomologist since 2001. His ESA office will be piled on top of his usual academic load of teaching and research.

“I’ll be president in 2019,” Peterson said, “so that basically means I’ll have two full-time jobs that year and will be travelling a lot.”

An early interest in science that was later nurtured in the Perry public schools has led to a successful and fulfilling career for this Perry native. Today’s PHS students face similar opportunities for hard work and success.


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