One of the rewarding things about life
is the chance to meet someone who makes
a difference – who is ready
to share knowledge, experience, ideas, advice, and constructive
criticism. It is in this spirit of gratefulness, felt
not only individually by many of its members,
but also as a representative of the scientific
community in our country, that the Swiss
Zoological Society awards a honorary membership to Stephen
C. Stearns, Professor at the Department of Ecology and
Evolutionary Biology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences
at Yale University.
Stephen C. Stearns was professor of zoology at the University
of Basel from 1983 to 2000, when he moved to Yale University,
the alma mater where he had graduated in 1967, before
earning a M.Sc. from the University of Wisconsin and a Ph.D.
from the University of British Columbia.
The focus of Prof. Stearns' research interests is life
history evolution, which connects ecology and evolutionary
biology. His work in the area of life history evolution has
substantially contributed to raise scientific awareness for
this field ("The Evolution of Life Histories",
Oxford 1992). He has most likely been the first organismic
biologist in Switzerland to appreciate the importance of
the upcoming genomics techniques for evolutionary biology,
and to start to use them in his work. His research interests
also cover evolutionary medicine ("Evolution in health
and disease", Oxford 1998).
During his nearly two decades in Switzerland, Prof. Stearns
enormously enriched research and teaching in zoology, well
beyond the walls of the atheneum on the Rhine shores. His
successful research, his dedication to expose students to
the international scientific community - resulting in innovative
forms of teaching such as the Guarda seminars, as well as
in memorable wine tastings organized by Steve and his wife
Beverly at their house in Arlesheim -, and his commitment
to promote organismic biology and evolutionary ecology at
the national and international level have been exemplary.
He founded and has served as the president of the European
Society for Evolutionary Biology and the Tropical Biology
Association, was founding editor of the Journal of Evolutionary
Biology, and has been a vice president of the Society for
the Study of Evolution. In Switzerland, Steve has been the
driving force in strengthening evolutionary biology. In this
spirit the annual meeting of Swiss organismic biologists,
now called BIOLOGY, has been invigorated, rejuvenated, becoming
thriving and of high academic standards in recent years.
He and his students (Jacqui Shykoff in particular) first
established Darwin’s birthday party in Basel in 1992,
an event that has become an essential highlight of the BIOLOGY
conferences. Above all, the success of his efforts is reflected
by the brilliant academic careers of many of his former collaborators
and students, to whom he has been a wise advisor and a source
of inspiration. Steve's impact is further witnessed by the
fact that his view of teaching and education continues – the
Guarda seminars, where Steve always attracted brilliant faculties,
have now become an international tool for student education,
and this formula has spread from the peaks of Graubünden
to those of Valais, where similar workshops are held in the
framework of the 3ème cycle romand. Steve's and his
assistants' courses in ecology, evolution and behaviour (EOV)
finally changed the life of many young biologists.
Steve's contribution to zoology and evolutionary biology
in our country, to our scientific standards and academic
performance, to our views and values, has been and continues
to be very substantial and a point of reference, and is the
gift of a very committed and generous scientist.
Those who attended Darwin's birthday party held during
the meeting of the Swiss Zoological Society in 1992 in a
castle near Basel will never forget that in those days Darwin
himself seemed to have paid us a visit.
Basel, February 2005, The board and general assembly of
the Swiss Zoological Society