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Ruth M. Patrick (1907-2013), pioneering stream ecologist

Published On: 10/8/2013

Ruth M. Patrick (1907-2013), diatomist, stream ecologist and advocate

Stream ecology pioneer Ruth Myrtle Patrick has died in Philadelphia suburbs on September 23, 2013 at the age of 105. Dr. Patrick was a botanist, specializing in diatoms, and a pioneer in developing methods to monitor environmental pollution and advocating for biomonitoring using aquatic organisms. She was born in 1907 in Topeka, Kansas and, from an early age, was interested in the natural world. Dr. Patrick graduated from Coker College (Hartsville, SC) in 1929 and got her doctorate from the University of Virginia before starting an unpaid researcher/curator position at the Academy of Natural Sciences, at Drexel University (ANSP) in Philadelphia in 1937. Dr. Patrick’s interests revolved around diatoms and, with Dr. Charles Reimer, wrote “The Diatoms of North America, Exclusive of Alaska and Hawaii” in two volumes (1966, 1975) which are still an important resource for diatomists worldwide. She also supported the diatom herbarium at ANSP, which is, by numbers of slides and samples, one of the largest and most important diatom collections in the world.

Through her work with diatoms, Dr. Patrick connected species composition to environmental conditions of streams, and specifically focused on the ability to determine the degree to which a stream was polluted. At the time, the paradigm was to examine how the streams affected organisms, rather using organisms to determine stream health. Dr. Patrick developed a model, the Patrick Principle, for gauging the health of a body of water by evaluating the biological diversity within it. Using this new approach, Patrick founded the Department of Limnology at the ANSP in 1947. This influential department was renamed the Patrick Center for Environmental Research in her honor in 1983.

Dr. Patrick worked with government and industry as a respected consultant and developed a productive relationship with the Atomic Energy Commission in the 1950s to examine the ecological status of the Savannah River. She also advised Presidents Johnson on water pollution and Reagan on acid rain issues. She taught limnology and botany at the University of Pennsylvania for 35 years. Dr. Patrick and Dr. Reimer trained some of the most prominent diatomists and their legacy is evident in the number of “academic offspring” active in the scientific community. She published more than 200 publications (starting in 1933) including a five-volume series “Rivers of the United States.” She was working on publications well into her 90s and continued to remain active at the ANSP when she was 100.

Dr. Patrick’s awards was numerous throughout her career. Notably, she was the 12th woman to be elected into the National Academy of Sciences in 1970 and was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1974. In 1996, she was awarded the National Medal of Science from President Clinton. She also received life achievement awards from American Society of Limnology and Oceanography and the National Council for Science.

She was married to Charles Hodge IV, a Temple University professor and a grasshopper expert, who died in 1985. He commented that being married to Dr. Patrick was "like being married to the tail of a comet." Her second husband, attorney Lewis H. Van Dusen, Jr., died in 2004. She is survived by her son, Charles Hodge V, three stepchildren, three grandchildren, and many step-grandchildren and step-great grandchildren.

More information on her amazing life: New York Times obituary, www. philly.com

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