Pioneer Member

Brian Larkins


Rebecca Boston
Deborah Delmer
Machi Dilworth
Robert Goldberg
Gideon Grafi
Judith Grollman
Eliot Herman
Al Kriz
Mauricio Lopes
Michael David Marks
Ralph Quatrano
James Van Etten
Ramin Yadegari

Alan Kriz – Brian Larkins is well-suited to be named a Pioneer of ASPB.  He has of course had a highly productive career spanning six decades. Here, though, I focus on him as a mentor and friend.

One of Brian’s key qualities is his care for the people with whom he works.  I was a postdoc in his lab at Purdue in the mid-1980s, and I began applying for faculty jobs in the last quarter of 1986.  On his recommendation to the Head of the Department of Agronomy (now Crop Sciences) at the University of Illinois, I was granted an interview that winter.  Just before the interview, my wife experienced an acute health issue, and I was coming down with a cold. I was in a bit of a funk.  I went through with the interview and, needless to say, I bombed it.   The department head called Brian and asked why the heck he had recommended me for this position.   Brian told him I was really suited for the role and convinced him to give me another chance.   So, a few weeks later I went back to Champaign, this time with a much better attitude, as well as a good deal of coaching from Brian.   After this second interview, on the two-hour drive back to West Lafayette, I reflected on the interview and thought I had done a good job.  As I pulled into the driveway, my wife came out and said, “Illinois just called, and they want you to call back!”  I was offered the job then and there, over the phone.  A little later Brian called and asked how it went, and I told him I was just offered the job.  A few minutes later he showed up at our front door with a couple of beers to celebrate (well, it was a Friday night). I did OK in my time at Illinois, and was promoted to Associate Professor after five years of service.  And again, I owe that to Brian for showing me how to build and run a productive research program.  For various reasons, I decided academia was not the life for me, and I left Illinois to join the agriculture industry, from which I retired a few years ago, and I honestly believe I owe my entire career to Brian’s belief in me back in 1987.

Mauricio Antonio Lopes – Working under the mentorship of Dr. Brian Larkins has been a transformative experience that has profoundly shaped my professional journey. Dr. Larkins, a pioneer in the field of plant biology and a dedicated researcher focusing on the nutritional quality of corn and other cereals, has imparted invaluable scientific knowledge while instilling in me a deep sense of curiosity, a broad perspective on research, and a commitment to continuous learning.

During my time as a graduate student under Dr. Larkins at Purdue University and later at the University of Arizona, I had the privilege of witnessing his clarity of thought, firm guidance, and genuine interest in my personal and intellectual development. His mentorship extended beyond academia; he provided me with the tools to critically analyze complex problems, implement effective solutions, and understand the broader implications of scientific research on society.

The research environment in Dr. Larkins’ lab was exemplary. It was a healthy, collaborative space where I worked alongside highly talented, motivated, and competitive graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. This dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment was both challenging and rewarding, significantly shaping my professional skills and research capabilities. The camaraderie and rigorous academic discourse within the lab were instrumental in sharpening my ability to work effectively in a team and contribute meaningfully to collective scientific endeavors.

Dr. Larkins’ emphasis on being both a specialist and a generalist resonated deeply with me. He encouraged me to explore diverse areas of research, ask challenging questions, and embrace the unexpected paths that scientific inquiry may lead us on. His advice to never be the smartest person in the lab highlighted the importance of humility and continuous growth, fostering an environment where learning from peers and colleagues was as valuable as individual achievements.

Dr. Larkins exemplified a remarkable openness to the world through the scientific challenges he embraced and the diverse array of students he mentored from various countries. His career trajectory shows a commitment to global collaboration and knowledge exchange, evident in his research endeavors that transcended borders and his mentorship of students from different cultural backgrounds. By fostering an inclusive and international academic environment, Dr. Larkins enriched his own scientific pursuits and contributed to cultivating a diverse and interconnected scientific community.

Dr. Larkins not only excelled in his scientific endeavors but also demonstrated a profound human side through his patience towards non-native speakers under his guidance. Recognizing the challenges faced by international students in perfecting their language skills while navigating the rigors of graduate school, he provided unwavering support and encouragement, fostering a nurturing environment for their academic growth.

Beyond academia, his welcoming nature extended to hosting numerous gatherings at his home, where individuals from diverse backgrounds came together in a spirit of camaraderie and shared learning. This sense of community was further enriched by the kindness and warmth of his family, his wife Pam Larkins and sons Aaron and Phillip, whose presence made the lives of international students far from their homelands more manageable and uplifting. The Larkins family’s generosity and hospitality created a home away from home, fostering a sense of belonging and support that transcended geographical boundaries.

Dr. Larkins’ induction into the National Academy of Sciences stands as a testament to his distinguished career and unwavering commitment to advancing scientific knowledge for the betterment of society. His research on seed development, storage proteins, and the nutritional quality of grains has not only contributed to the field of plant biology but has also had a tangible impact on global food security and nutrition.

As I reflect on my journey under Dr. Larkins’ mentorship, I am grateful for the opportunities to travel, teach, discover, and contribute to scientific knowledge. His words of wisdom, encouragement to embrace challenges, and dedication to fostering a collaborative and supportive research environment have left an indelible mark on my professional life.

In conclusion, Dr. Brian Larkins is not just a mentor or a professor; he was a visionary leader, a dedicated researcher, a friend, and a compassionate guide who has shaped the lives and careers of countless individuals in the field of plant biology. His legacy as a pioneer of the American Society of Plant Biologists will continue to inspire future generations of scientists to pursue excellence, curiosity, and innovation in their scientific endeavors.