Edward O. Wilson was born in Birmingham, Ala., in 1929. After his parents’ divorce in 1936, Wilson spent most of his childhood living with his father and stepmother. The family moved frequently, making it difficult for Wilson to sustain friendships. He spent much of his free time exploring the natural environment, considering nature to be his first, truest friend. Wilson decided early to become a biologist, but a childhood fishing accident rendered him legally blind in one eye, and he suffered a substantial hearing loss during adolescence. He decided to study organisms that did not require him to have these abilities and became an entomologist, primarily studying ants.
While at the University of Alabama, Wilson made one of the first studies of the fire ant, examining the rate at which it was spreading northward. He went to Harvard University for his PhD studies, primarily because Harvard had the world’s largest collection of ant specimens. In 1956, Wilson became a biology professor at Harvard, and, in 1972, he was appointed Curator of Entomology at its Museum of Comparative Zoology. Wilson has been a pioneer in biogeography (the geographical distribution of species) and sociobiology (which examines genetic bases for animal behavior). He has also been active in the conservation movement, advocating for the preservation of habitat and biodiversity of species. In addition to two Pulitzer Prizes, Wilson has been awarded many medals and prizes, among them a Guggenheim Fellowship (1975), the National Medal of Science (1977), and the Crafoord Prize (1990), which recognizes researchers in scientific fields not eligible for the Nobel Prize.
Edward O. Wilson’s works on entomology are significant in the scientific community, and he has written extensively on sociobiology and biodiversity. In the tradition of Rachel Carson, Wilson bridges the gap between science and the humanities, making science accessible to the general public and presenting the case for conservation of the natural world.
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Photo by J. D. Sloan; courtesy of Vintage/Anchor Books.
Last updated on Dec 19, 2008.