Professor John S. Boyer, a marine biologist in the University of Delaware College of Marine Studies, has been elected to be a Corresponding Member of the Australian Academy of Science. This distinction is reserved for scientists “who are eminent in respect of scientific discoveries and attainments” but who do not normally reside in Australia. Only two corresponding members can be elected in one year.
The Australian Academy of Science, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, comprises approximately 350 of Australia’s top scientists. Sixteen scientists, who are judged by their peers to have made an exceptional contribution to knowledge in their field, are elected to the academy each year.
Boyer’s research focuses on understanding how saline and drought conditions can inhibit plant growth. Saline conditions, which occur when soil has a high salt content, can occur anywhere, but cause particular problems in arid and semi-arid areas. These lands typically must be irrigated — a practice that can increase the concentration of salt in the soil.
“Australia is an extremely old continent,” says Boyer. “Much of its agricultural soil comes from rocks that have been weathering for millions of years. As a result, the soil is naturally high in salt, which has dissolved from the rocks through the weathering process. In addition, much of the land lies in semi-arid areas that must be irrigated.”
According to Sue Serjeantson, executive secretary of the Australian Academy of Science, “Dr. Boyer was selected based on the many contributions he has made to our knowledge of the mechanisms by which plants respond to water stress or salinity. These subjects are of great scientific interest and economic importance to Australia because agricultural industries have been, and continue to be, important contributors to Australia’s prosperity.”
Figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicate that Australia exported about $1.8 billion in agricultural products to the United States in 2002.
“Dr. Boyer has been involved with a number of cooperative projects with colleagues in Australia,” says Serjeantson. “His work has had a profound effect on Australian research in these areas.”
Boyer has traveled to Australia several times to conduct research — last year, he spent four months in Canberra, the country’s capital. Currently, Boyer has been helping his colleagues in Australia develop genetic types of wheat that can tolerate high concentrations of salt in the soil. Durum wheat, for example, is an economically valuable crop for making pasta that is highly sensitive to salt content in the soil.
“It is very exciting to have an entire country interested in the area that you are researching,” says Boyer of his election. “In many parts of the United States, we are not as affected by salinity and drought conditions as Australia — but we do need to be careful.”
A prolific author, Boyer has written over 150 scientific peer-reviewed papers and has published two books. Last year, the Institute for Scientific Information listed him among the 250 most cited scientists in the world in the plant and animal sciences.
In addition, his accomplishments have been recognized by his peers throughout the world. In 1990, he was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences, considered to be one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a scientist. He also received a senior scientist award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany in 1983, which is granted on the basis of internationally recognized academic qualifications. In 1977, he received the Charles Albert Shull Award from the American Society of Plant Physiologists for “outstanding contributions to plant physiology.”
Boyer has been on the faculty of the University of Delaware College of Marine Studies since 1987. In 1987, he was named E. I. du Pont Professor of Marine Biochemistry/Biophysics, a designation that honors distinguished teaching and scholarship. In August 1999, Boyer received the Francis Alison Award, which is the highest honor the university bestows on a faculty member.
Boyer resides in Lewes with his wife, Jean. They have two grown daughters.