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July 11, 2006

Four Generations of Gauch Family Maintain Strong Sigma Xi Tradition

In the authorís note to his article "Winning the Accuracy Game" in the March-April 2006 American Scientist, Hugh G. Gauch, Jr. at Cornell University mentioned that he is a fourth-generation Sigma Xi member. A family tradition that strong seemed worthy of elaboration, which follows.

My great-grandfather, Charles Wesley Rolfe, entered the first class of the University of Illinois and graduated with 19 other men in 1872. After teaching school for several years, he returned and was a distinguished professor and then professor-emeritus for half a century. While head of geology, he collected the materials for the first topographic survey of Illinois and established the ceramics department. He also taught physiology and veterinary science. He even taught bookkeeping and was vice-president of a local bank. Charles Wesley Rolfe was inducted into Sigma Xi as a founding member of the University of Illinois Chapter in 1903.

    Photo caption: Four generations of     Sigma Xi members are shown     above, clockwise starting top left:     Charles Wesley Rolfe, Susan Farley     Rolfe (later, Mrs. Horace Graham     Butler), Hugh Gilbert Gauch and     Hugh G. Gauch, Jr. Charles Rolfe     photo courtesy of the University of     Illinois Archives.

I never met my great-grandfather, but I remember well visiting my great-aunts in his grand home with its lovely gardens. The original owner's son, Lorado Taft, became a famous painter. The Taft House, as it's called, is now occupied by the universityís Vocational Agriculture Service. My great-grandfather married Martha Kinsman Farley, a native of Boston. They had four daughters, and all four graduated from the University of Illinois.

My grandmother, Susan Farley Rolfe (later, Mrs. Horace Graham Butler), also earned a M.A. degree in botany at the University of Illinois. I remember her great fondness for formal gardens and enjoyed reading her thesis about the effects of light and gravity on the direction of growth of oat coleoptiles. She became a Sigma Xi member at the University of Illinois in 1909. Her husband was first vice-president of the publishers Henry Holt and Company. My mother, Martha, remembered as a young girl waiting in the car while her father arranged contracts with the poet Robert Frost.

My father, Hugh Gilbert Gauch, was professor and chair of botany at the University of Maryland. He did his M.S. work at Kansas State University, where he was inducted into Sigma Xi in 1937. His Ph.D. was from the University of Chicago, where he met my mother, also a graduate student in botany (after earning her B.S. at Cornell University, although an illness prevented her from completing the graduate program). My father published about 200 papers in plant physiology and an important book on plant nutrition. He was especially dedicated to the education of foreign graduate students as a means of strengthening agriculture worldwide. My mother was also an active scientist at the University of Maryland, writing computer programs and publishing several papers in the department of animal husbandry.

With my grandmother and both parents all being botanists, my destiny was sealed. I majored in botany at the University of Maryland and did graduate studies in plant genetics at Cornell. But much earlier, a lifelong interest in science had been instilled as a youngster. I nearly failed first grade, but then my parents suggested to my second-grade teacher that I be given science books to read (instead of Jack and Jill going up and down the hill!), and that was a great success.

One of my favorite toys was a Gilbert Chemistry Set in its bright red wooden box. My father would frequently supplement my set by bringing home extra chemicals, which generated exciting new possibilities (although fortunately no explosions!). Once he brought home a solution of platinum chloride. When a copper penny was dropped into this clear solution, metallic platinum precipitated onto the coin, which was a wonder and delight to me.

I was inducted into Sigma Xi in 1980 at Cornell University. My research specialty at Cornell has been statistical analysis of ecological and agricultural data, which has resulted in about 70 papers, two books and software that has gone to over 4,000 laboratories. During the past two decades, I have also been keenly interested in philosophy of science from a distinctively practical perspective. This resulted in a book called Scientific Method in Practice.

As I continue to enjoy my career in science, my appreciation grows for the generations of scientists who preceded me.

—Hugh G. Gauch, Jr.


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