Erinn Barcomb-Peterson
KU News Service

Community grieves death of Professor Val Smith, leader in aquatic ecology, biofuels

Wed, 04/06/2016

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas community is grieving the death of one of its professors who helped bolster KU’s reputation in the sciences.

Val Smith, professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, died April 2 at his home in Lawrence. He was 65.

“I join the University of Kansas community in mourning the death of Professor Val Smith, whose teaching and research contributed significantly to his field and helped elevate the reputation of the university and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology,” said Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. “On behalf of the KU community, I extend my condolences to Professor Smith’s family, friends, colleagues and students.”

For 23 years Smith was a professor at KU, where he earlier earned bachelor’s degrees in biology and chemistry and met his wife of 43 years, Marilyn.

The couple went to Rutgers University for master’s studies and then the University of Minnesota, where Val Smith earned a doctorate. He completed postdoctoral research at McGill University in Montreal. He was a faculty member at the University of North Carolina and a visiting scientist at the University of Montreal before returning to KU in 1993.

Smith leaves behind a scientific legacy of many papers on aquatic ecology, biofuels and the ecology of infectious diseases. The Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography recognized his paper on the influence of nitrogen and phosphorus ratios on the proliferation of blue-green algae as one of the most influential in the field of aquatic science during the 20th century.

He also was involved in a major effort to develop algal biofuels as part of KU’s multidisciplinary Feedstock to Tailpipe Initiative.

In 2015, a one-day symposium in his honor drew aquatic ecologists from 15 North American universities and research stations to KU to discuss topics like algal blooms in coastal zones, the effect of invasive zebra mussels on reservoirs, boreal lakes and climate change.

Smith mentored 10 Kansas high school teachers as part of the Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis program Research Experiences for Teachers. He helped create new educational materials as well and in the process touched the lives of dozens of teachers and hundreds of students.

Smith is remembered as an engaging speaker and was honored with teaching awards during his years of service.  

“This is a tremendous loss. Professor Smith’s legacy as a researcher, colleague and mentor cannot be overstated,” said Carl Lejuez, dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. “My deepest sympathies go out to his friends and loved ones.”

Visitation will be 6-8 p.m. Saturday, April 9, at Warren-McElwain Mortuary, 120 W. 13th St. in Lawrence.  

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