Science - December 16, 2004

Insect man voted the greatest

The deceased entomologist, Professor Jan de Wilde has been voted Greatest Wageninger in the poll organised by Wb. The charismatic professor De Wilde (1916-1983) was a pioneer in biological pest control, and set up the Entomology department in Wageningen. De Wilde received 264 of the 740 votes.

De Wilde’s laboratory became well known, far and wide, as did the man himself. He was at the forefront of the use of natural enemies such as parasitic wasps and predatory mites against pests in greenhouses and orchards. When Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, which warned of the dangers of pesticides, was published in 1962, there were already thirty people working in the ‘Working Group for the Harmonic Control of Pests’ and De Wilde was one of the more active members of the group.

The present chair of entomology, Professor Marcel Dicke, who nominated De Wilde, was delighted at the news: ‘I think it is absolutely right that he won. Not only did he lay the foundations of the Entomology department and the degree in Biology here, but in the 1950s he was one of the first to actively promote Wageningen internationally. He even went to China then, and we still have excellent relations with the same group there.’

One of the international votes came from Professor Makio Takeda, Chair of Entomology at the University Kobe in Japan. He worked for De Wilde in Wageningen at the beginning of the 1980s. In the e-mail he sent with his vote, Professor Takeda wrote the following: ‘As an insect physiologist, I would not hesitate to list him among the founders of this field. He was always very kind to foreign visitors. I had a great time in Wageningen because he introduced me to different people and aspects of the Netherlands. He made many friends among the Japanese, and I think of him often when I am teaching.’

Second place in the poll went to former chair of Livestock Breeding, Professor Rommert Politiek (143 votes). In third place was Professor Cees de Wit (78 votes), former chair of Theoretical Plant Production. / LW, GvM

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