WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The Purdue University Entomology Department has been giving back to Indiana for 101 years.

Through education, outreach programs and research, the department is more than just a place to earn a degree in entomology. It is an information hub for farmers and community members around the state.

“We’re responsive to the needs of the citizens of Indiana,” said Steve Yaninek, professor and head of entomology at Purdue. “They expect and we deliver on finding solutions to problems in the state — production, urban environments, store products or public health issues, food processing and more.”

The department consists of 29 campus faculty members and about 80 undergraduate and graduate students.

While it is a small college on campus, it is one of the largest undergraduate entomology programs in the country.

“The biggest thing that’s happened over time is we have had a lot of new hires in the past decade,” Yaninek said. “Half the faculty has changed. New people bring new ideas and new initiatives, causing significant growth in research horsepower.”

He said this has resulted in more research, graduate students and visiting scientists.

The roots of the department are based in horticulture and agriculture. Important research pertaining to pesticides, insecticides and how insects affect food production is conducted at Purdue.

“Out of our pest management roots we’ve developed specific research interests that focus on basic sciences of how pests are attracted to plants and how plants respond in terms of resistance — the chemistry and now genetics involved in that,” Yaninek said.

Graduates and professors are studying gene sequencing in mosquitoes, honeybees and other insects. Researchers also heavily focus on insects in urban environments.

“What we do that’s really unique is our efforts in the area of insect education and outreach,” Yaninek said. “We reach out to the general public using insects as a way to tell stories about not just science, but agricultural science and insect science.”

The department does this through a series of proactive programs that travel to students. One example is Insectiganza.

Every fall, fifth graders from a chosen county come to campus to learn about entomology.

The students can dissect a grasshopper, attend a magic show related to insects and play bug bingo. Anywhere from 600 to 800 students, teachers and chaperones are involved.

Purdue students help to run a science theater that develops themes, skits and plays. The performances are done at fairs and schools across the state.

The highlight of the entomology outreach calendar is the annual Bug Bowl.

“It’s a chance for people to come to campus and visit an insect petting zoo, look at insects in a microscope and more,” Yaninek said.

The Entomology Department also has a large presence internationally. Faculty recently developed Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage bags, used to keep cowpeas and other grains dry and free from insects and mold.

“It’s been distributed to 11,000 villages in 10 countries,” the professor said. “It’s more than doubled the income of many users.”

Yaninek said this is an exciting time to study and be involved with entomology. For more information visit www.ag.purdue.edu/entm.