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College of Arts and Sciences

Hairston receives award for work in limnology

By: Aarushi Machavarapu
A&S Communications
March 5, 2020

Nelson Hairston, the Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Environmental Science emeritus, has been awarded the Naumann-Thienemann Medal by the Societas Internationalis Limnologiae (SIL), the highest honor that can be bestowed internationally for outstanding scientific contributions to limnology. 

Hairston will receive this honor at the next SIL congress in Gwangju, South Korea. 

“It’s a really nice recognition by your colleagues, people you respect,” Hairston said.

Hairston studies freshwater organisms in lakes and their ecological and evolutionary responses to environmental change. His research has shown effects on predator-prey cycles, seasonal plankton dynamics and the long-term persistence of genetic variation. 

“What we’ve found, and it’s becoming increasingly clear not only to me and my colleagues but to others around the world, is that evolution, which we think of as being really slow, can be incredibly fast,” he said.

Hairston has worked with the Max-Planck-Institute for Limnology in the past and is currently studying how climate change affects seasonal thermal stratification and mixing patterns in lakes and how this influences plankton dynamics. 

Since Hairston’s research involves manipulating the environment of freshwater organisms, he has often conducted experiments at Cornell’s outdoor experimental ponds, located near the Tompkins County airport. “There are 91 experimental ponds there, and that’s an amazing place where you can manipulate what kinds of nutrients are in different water bodies,” he said.

Hairston is a past senior associate dean in the College of Arts & Sciences and a former member of the Cornell Board of Trustees. He retired in December 2019 and now lives in Hawaii, remaining active in his research.