American Botanist JOE KLINGENSMITH talks about his foray into the world of Botany and General Biology to Teresa Rehman. He is former Professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, New York, USA
How did you get interested in the study of Botany?
My interest in the study of Botany, my special branch of Biology dates back to my early years. As far back as I can remember and even before that I have had an interest in gardening. My father used to tell me that when I was three years and we were living in North Dakota at that time, I asked him one March morning when we were outside: “When are we going to plant the garden?” As long as I can remember, I have either helped with the vegetable garden or had responsibility for it. Later, I started planting flower gardens around the house.
How did it evolve as an academic career for you?
In college I majored in Botany, which included chemistry courses as well. Our major Professor made sure that the majors were well acquainted with the outdoors and we would take various camping trips to explore the outdoors. I received special permission to take an upper-division course in Microbiology in my sophomore year of college. When I returned in Fall, the chairman asked me if I would teach the lab portion of the Microbiology class and he would teach the lectures. The reason being I was the only one in the department who had had the course and the professor had taken a position in Japan during the summer. I taught the labs my last two years. I was also given the responsibility of taking care of the departmental greenhouse.
When it became time to think of graduate school, I knew that I enjoyed Botany and Chemistry and the only course that I had and combined the two was Microbiology. I applied to various schools and was accepted at Florida State University in the Department of Microbiology. I went there the summer I graduated from Wheaton College, 1954, to take a required course for graduate work. By the end of the first semester I realized I did not want to spend my life inside looking through the microscope, instead I was more interested in Plant Physiology, a course I had taken my last semester of my Senior year. Through the references from three professors at FSU, who had graduated from the University of Michigan I was accepted for graduate work in the Department of botany. I completed my MS and PhD work there with research in Plant Physiology. in 1959. The department stressed teaching as well as research for all their majors. I enjoyed the teaching emphasis over the research aspect. I even taught a course at the U of M upon graduation to High School teachers. My teaching career lasted for 35 years, teaching Botany and General Biology courses at Ohio Wesleyan University, Colgate University and finally at the Rochester Institute of Technology (29 years).
How has Biology evolved during your years of teaching?
With advancement of techniques to study cells and trace the movement of materials in organisms information has greatly increased. For example, my last year at the U of M I heard a seminar given by Dr Crick explaining his theory of the structure of DNA. Now that is taught in high schools and people are taking it apart and inserting new genetic material into it for use. I bought a book on Cytology upon graduation, a course I had not taken. The discussion on ribosomes was they make up 20 percent of the cell mass and its function was unknown. Now we know they are very important in synthesis of various materials in the cell.