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Carl Gerhardt Recipient of Thomas Jefferson Award

April 10, 2012

Carl Gerhardt is handed a letter by Christa Weisbrook

Christa Weisbrook presents Carl Gerhardt with a personal letter of congratulations from President Tim Wolfe.

Carl Gerhardt, Curators’ Professor of Biological Sciences, was named this year’s recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Award.

The highest honor bestowed by the University of Missouri System, the award recognizes faculty who rise above excellence and demonstrate clear distinction in teaching, research, writing, creative activities, and service to the university and to humankind, while exemplifying the principles and ideals of Thomas Jefferson.

Gerhardt received the B.S. and Ph.D. degrees in zoology from the University of Georgia and University of Texas-Austin, respectively. After a postdoctoral position at Cornell University, he joined the faculty at MU in 1971 as an assistant professor in the Division of Biological Sciences, where he currently holds a prestigious Curators’ Professorship.

Gerhardt’s research is focused on the neurobiology and evolution of acoustic communication. He is widely recognized as pioneering the use of synthetic acoustic signals to identify the pertinent properties used in mate choice and species recognition in treefrogs. He has applied this method in combination with field studies, genetic analyses, and neurobiological techniques to the study of communication and speciation in two sets of closely related species: green (Hyla cinerea) and barking (H. gratiosa) treefrogs and eastern gray (H. versicolor) and Cope’s gray (H. chrysoscelis) treefrogs. Through these studies, his lab established the importance of brain and behavior in contributing to the evolution of species divergence and biological diversity.

“As a rigorous empiricist willing to relentlessly pursue scientific questions wherever they lead him, Carl’s research on animal communication and reproductive behavior transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries,” wrote Mark Bee, a former student of Gerhardt and now a faculty member at the University of Minnesota, in a letter supporting the nomination. “As a result, he has made seminal contributions in fields ranging from evolutionary biology, to behavioral ecology, to auditory neuroscience.”

Gerhardt has over 125 science publications, including six in Science and two in Nature. His writing achievements also include the seminal textbook Acoustic Communication in Insects and Frogs: Common Problems and Diverse Solutions and the popular natural history book Frogs and Toads of North America: A Comprehensive Guide to their Identification, Behavior and Calls (2009; Houghton-Mifflin). A record of continuous funding by the National Science Foundation, three National Institutes of Health career awards, service to his profession as an editor and officer in international societies, and the success record of his students were all cited as additional measures of Gerhardt’s excellence and clear distinction.

“An unquenchable curiosity about the natural world and a passion for science are among the many Jeffersonian principles and ideals embodied by Carl,” said John Walker, professor and director of the Division of Biological Sciences. “As one of his colleagues noted ‘the true mark of a naturalist is one who not only appreciates our natural world but infects others with that enthusiasm.’ That’s Carl.”

Gerhardt was surprised with the award at a faculty meeting on 5 April 2012. At the meeting, Christa Weisbrook, faculty fellow for Academic Affairs, presented Gerhardt with a personal letter from President Tim Wolfe and an invitation to attend an award ceremony in June.


Written by: Melody Kroll

Related research strengths:
Cell Biology, Ecology, Evolution, Genetics & Genomics, Neurobiology
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