Frank A. von Hippel is a professor of environmental health sciences in the Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona. Frank was born and raised in Alaska, received his A.B. in biology at Dartmouth College in 1989, and his Ph.D. in integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley in 1996. He taught for Columbia University (1996-1999), the University of Alaska Anchorage (2000-2016), and Northern Arizona University (2016-2021) before moving to the University of Arizona in 2021, where he is a professor and lead of the One Health research initiative. Frank has taught ecology field courses in over twenty countries, and conducted research in the Americas, Africa and Australia. Frank’s research has been widely covered in the press, including The New York Times, National Public Radio, The Economist, the BBC, and many other media outlets. Frank hosts the Science History Podcast, and loves to write about science for both technical and general audiences. He is the author of The Chemical Age published in September 2020 by The University of Chicago Press.
For thousands of years, we’ve found ways to scorch, scour, and sterilize our surroundings to make them safer. Sometimes these methods are wonderfully effective. Often, however, they come with catastrophic consequences—consequences that aren’t typically understood for generations.
The Chemical Age tells the captivating story of the scientists who waged war on famine and disease with chemistry. With depth and verve, Frank A. von Hippel explores humanity’s uneasy coexistence with pests, and how their existence, and the battles to exterminate them, have shaped our modern world. Beginning with the potato blight tragedy of the 1840s, which led scientists on an urgent mission to prevent famine using pesticides, von Hippel traces the history of pesticide use to the 1960s, when Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring revealed that those same chemicals were insidiously damaging our health and driving species toward extinction. Telling the story of these pesticides in vivid detail, von Hippel showcases the thrills and complex consequences of scientific discovery. He describes the invention of substances that could protect crops, the emergence of our understanding of the way diseases spread, the creation of chemicals used to kill pests and people, and, finally, how scientists turned those wartime chemicals on the landscape at a massive scale, prompting the vital environmental movement that continues today.
The Chemical Age is a dynamic, sweeping history that exposes how humankind’s affinity for pesticides made the modern world possible—while also threatening its essential fabric.
In a flurry of post-war productivity, Niko Tinbergen re-established his lab in Leiden, wrote landmark papers and his famous book The Study of Instinct, and founded the journal Behaviour to serve the burgeoning field of ethology. Tinbergen and his senior assistant, Jan van Iersel, published their classic paper, "Displacement reactions in the three-spined stickleback," in the first issue of his new journal in 1948.
Stickleback are now a powerful model in the fields of behavioural ecology, evolutionary biology, developmental genetics, and ecotoxicology - an extraordinary development for a small fish that began its modeling career among an enthusiastic core of Tinbergen students in the 1930s. From a series of clever experiments with painted model fish to the use of the sequenced genome to analyze the genetic basis of courtship, stickleback science progressed in leaps and bounds, often via seminal studies published in the pages of Behaviour.
Tinbergen’s Legacy in Behaviour traces sixty years in the development of science using stickleback as a model, with 34 original articles covering topics ranging from homosexuality and cannibalism to genetics and speciation. Desmond Morris, Theo Bakker, Robert Wootton, Michael Bell, Tom Reimchen, Boyd Kynard, Harman Peeke, and Iain Barber provide fresh retrospectives on their republished works. Commentary by Frank von Hippel accompanies the articles and explains the roles they played in the frontiers of science as researchers falsified or expanded upon one another’s ideas.
Frank’s ecotoxicology research includes a major emphasis on CBPR with indigenous peoples, including the Yupik people of St. Lawrence Island. This research was featured on the front page of The New York Times in August 2015. This research was also highlighted by NIEHS’s Environmental Factor in May 2017, Environmental Health News in December 2017, and NIEHS’s Partnerships for Environmental Public Health Newsletter in February 2018, among other outlets. Frank and his collaborators use resident freshwater fish as a model for human health impacts of contaminants derived from Cold War military installations and atmospheric deposition, and recently published on levels and health impacts of pesticides (Byrne et al., 2015), PBDEs and PFAS (Byrne et al., 2017, 2018a,b; Zheng et al. 2020), and PCBs (von Hippel et al. 2018) in St. Lawrence Island residents and fish. Frank worked with students and collaborators to develop numerous analytical tools and biomarkers for the use of stickleback fish in ecotoxicology, and more specifically in arctic ecotoxicology (e.g., von Hippel et al., 2016). These tools allow researchers to use stickleback, which are ubiquitous in contaminated sites of the Arctic, as biosentinels and models for understanding mechanisms of toxicity. More recently, Frank partnered with the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska Island in the Aleutians to investigate PCB pollution derived from Cold War military installations (Adams et al. 2019). Frank’s highest research priority is his community-based partnerships with Native American tribes and other under-served populations.
Frank and his collaborators partner with two community hospitals in Yuma County – the Yuma Regional Medical Center and the Regional Center for Border Health – as well as the farmworker advocacy group Campesinos Sin Fronteras, to study and solve environmental health concerns facing border communities and farmworkers. Projects so far include One Health investigations of potential impacts of perchlorate, neurotoxic metals, and pesticides on human health, and include the use of wild-caught rodents as an animal model. This work was covered by National Public Radio programs in Arizona ( and ). The team is now developing new environmental health projects with the Cocopah Tribe on the Arizona-Mexico border.
Frank and his collaborators are using a One Health approach to investigate the effects of manganese contamination from one of the world’s largest manganese mines on sensitive wildlife and residents on Groote Island. This includes work on contamination of air with respirable manganese particles, and bioaccumulation of manganese in the northern quoll, a carnivorous marsupial (Amir Abdul Nasir et al. 2018a), as well as effects of manganese exposure on motor performance in quolls (Amir Abdul Nasir et al. 2018b). The team is also investigating endocrine function, telomere length, and immune function in quolls and other resident wildlife, and applying these results to the health of Anindilyakwa residents.
Frank began a major research program on perchlorate ecotoxicology after assisting with the development of analytical techniques (Dodds et al. 2004). Working with his Ph.D. student Richard Bernhardt, Frank discovered the first case of an environmental contaminant (perchlorate) capable of masculinizing genotypic female fish into hermaphrodites (Bernhardt et al. 2006). Previously, all known cases of sexual disruption leading to hermaphrodites were of males feminized. This study was featured in headline stories of Science News, Environmental Health Perspectives, Environmental Health News, and various newspapers and public radio programs. Subsequent research on perchlorate led to significant discoveries in Frank’s lab on developmental disruption of reproductive behavior, swimming performance, gross morphological traits, bone, and thyroid (Bernhardt & von Hippel 2008; Bernhardt et al. 2011; Furin et al. 2015a; Gardell et al. 2015, 2017). Frank’s lab discovered the critical window during which perchlorate disrupts both sexual and thyroid development, and identified factors of gonadal dysgenesis for both males and females (Furin et al. 2015b; Petersen et al. 2015). His research group found that perchlorate masculinizes female fish by reducing primary germ cell number early in development, a finding relevant to human reproductive diseases (Petersen et al. 2016). Frank’s lab also investigated the trophic transfer of perchlorate in order to advance ecological risk assessment (Furin et al. 2013). The team also discovered that perchlorate may be an environmental obesogen, and that it induces non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in the developing stickleback (Minicozzi et al. 2019).
Frank and his students developed a Fisher’s linear discriminant function based on stickleback skull morphology to identify populations along the benthic (bottom feeding) - limnetic (zooplankton feeding) axis (Willacker et al. 2010). Classification scores correlated with trophic morphology traits, physical habitat variables, and the presence of invasive fish. This is the first study to develop such a mathematical tool for classifying fish and testing hypotheses along this trophic axis. This allowed Frank and his students to investigate the detailed trophic ecology of mercury in stickleback along this trophic axis, and to parse out effects due to percent benthic carbon vs. trophic position (Willacker et al. 2013). His team also investigated the relative contribution of other factors on mercury accumulation in food webs, such as seabird use and the presence of formerly used defense sites (Kenney et al. 2012; 2014).
Frank and his students conducted the first biodiversity surveys of freshwater fishes in certain remote parts of Alaska, including the Bering Glacier region (von Hippel & Weigner 2004; Weigner & von Hippel 2010) and much of the Aleutian Archipelago (Kenney & von Hippel 2014, 2017), and investigated novel populations of salmonids in Katmai National Park (Shedd et al. 2015). His team has also investigated fish biological invasions in Alaska (Haught & von Hippel 2011; Eidam et al. 2016; Cathcart et al. 2019) and studied conservation implications (e.g., Patankar et al. 2006; von Hippel 2008). Frank also works on similar fish conservation projects in California.
Frank and his students have investigated the rapid formation of stickleback species pairs in newly created lakes and streams and the contributions of spatial and temporal isolation and life history variation in the maintenance of these sympatric species. Frank’s research group demonstrated that assortative mating, a critical behavioral process to speciation, can evolve in as little as 10 generations during the process of rapid ecological speciation (Furin et al. 2012). The team developed a new study system on earthquake uplift islands in southcentral Alaska, where previously marine habitat was uplifted by the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake and new freshwater habitats formed; in these habitats, oceanic stickleback evolved over a few decades into freshwater stickleback (Gelmond et al. 2009), with phenotypes evolving in parallel to those of stickleback in much older sites around the world (Kimmel et al. 2012). This is now considered to be one of the fastest known evolution events in a wild vertebrate, and Frank and his collaborators showed that the process repeated itself in parallel on multiple islands and among watersheds on a single island (e.g., Lescak et al. 2015; this paper was widely covered in the press). The team also analyzed the genomic basis of such rapid evolutionary change (Bassam et al. 2018, featured in Spotlight by the Genetics Society of America; Kingman et al. 2021), and showed that stickleback physiology evolves quickly in concert with morphology (Divino et al. 2016). Frank has published >25 papers on stickleback biology, not including ecotoxicology investigations (see complete bibliography). A number of tools emerged from this work that are proving valuable in Frank’s ecotoxicology investigations using stickleback.
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