Celebrating its 10th anniversary—and the 50th of its precursor, the Institute of Ecology—UGA’s Odum School of Ecology, the world’s first school devoted to the study of ecology, is the focus of an exhibit at the UGA Special Collections Libraries.
The history of the school actually can be traced back to 1940 when Eugene P. Odum came to UGA as a lecturer in zoology. Often called the “father of modern ecology,” Odum is widely credited with making “ecosystem” a household word. At UGA he led the way in establishing ecology as an academic discipline and was instrumental in founding two off-campus research groups in the 1950s – the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory and the marine Biological Institute (now the UGA Marine Institute) on Sapelo Island.
Following the first Earth Day in 1970, Odum became a major voice in the growing environmental movement.
Odum was invited by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1951 to conduct biological inventories of the Savannah River Plant, before operations began. Now known as the Savannah River Ecology Lab (SREL), it is the site of radiation ecology research, including environmental health, environmental stewardship, radioecology and remediation. In 1953, Odum was awarded a contract to establish a biological research laboratory on Sapelo Island. Research conducted there had a major influence on the field of ecology, in general, and salt marsh ecology in particular. Today the Marine Institute is a thriving field station that provides access to coastal habitats with long-term data and a reputation as a leader in the study of estuaries and barrier islands.
By 1953, Eugene Odum and his brother, Howard, collaborated on a textbook, Fundamentals of Ecology, which used the word “ecosystem“ as the organizing concept, bringing it into everyday jargon. Over the years the book has been released in five editions and a dozen languages.
In 1956, the Odums traveled to Eniwetok Atoll in the South Pacific on an Atomic Energy Commission grant to study the environmental impact of atomic weapons testing. They made a significant discovery at the atoll by proving that coral reef was maintaining itself in equilibrium because of the symbiotic relationship of the coral and the algae.
Photographs, publications, maps and correspondence are featured in the exhibit, along with the national and international medals, prizes and honors Odum garnered in his lifetime. A timeline charts the development of the Institute and its leadership over the decades.
The exhibit will be on display in the galleries of the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library through mid-October.