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
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 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.