The annual symposium for the Department of Zoology is named in honour of Debbie and Justin Wragg-Schmidt. Funds were generously provided by Justin and Li Schmidt to support a symposium organized by the department's graduate students.
Justin Schmidt hailed from Pennsylvania to the beauty and culture of British Columbia to begin his graduate school training at UBC. There he met Debbie Wragg in the Varsity Outdoor Club while she was completing her dual honors programs in Zoology and Chemistry. After finishing their degrees at UBC, they completed their PhD degrees in Zoology (Debbie) and Entomology (Justin) at the University of Georgia. After that Debbie entered medical school to become a Family Medicine doctor while Justin completed postdoctoral research at the University of New Brunswick and at University of Georgia. Throughout all of these moves and training both retained their fond memories of their times at UBC and the quality of their education. During medical school Debbie was struck down by melanoma. Justin moved to the state of Arizona where he investigated the physiology and chemical ecology of ants, wasps, bees, and a variety of other insects and organisms. His research expanded to include defensive behavior and evolution of stinging insects, the pain caused by insect stings, the biochemistry of insect venoms, the biology of little-known arachnids called vinegaroons, and medical entomology relating to allergy to insect stings and kissing bugs.
Dr. Schmidt joined the Department of Entomology as an adjunct faculty at the University of Arizona and in 1986 established the Southwestern Biological Institute, a nonprofit research institution focusing on insects and other organisms of the desert southwest of the US and around the world, and where he continues his research. He has published 230 scientific and peer-reviewed articles, edited three books, and wrote the highly acclaimed book “The Sting of the Wild”, a nonfiction book that takes audiences aged 5 to 105 on insect safari adventures into the magical lives of stinging insects, the reasons why they sting, and how we all coexist.
Justin has been the research advisor for several students and postdocs at the University of Arizona and an outside advisor for a PhD student at the University of Manitoba. He has served on the editorial boards of the Canadian Entomologist and the Journal of Insect Behavior, among others, and has been an officer of the International Society of Hymenopterists and the Entomological Society of America. Awards have included the Agricultural Research Service Technology Transfer Award, the Western Apicultural Society Scientist of the Year, State College High School Alumnus of the Year, and the Ig Nobel Prize for Physiology and Entomology. He is given several hundred scientific presentations at professional societies, over 200 public interviews for television, radio, magazines, and newspapers including Jimmy Kimmel Live, CBS Sunday Morning, The Markus Lanz Show, NPR Science Friday, NPR Morning Edition, Radio Lab, CBC, CNN, BBC, The World with Marco Whorman, FiveThirtyEight, NY Times Weekend Magazine, Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, the Guardian, Huffington Post, Ted-Ed, various podcasts, and was quoted in the movies Ant-Man and Bowling for Columbine.
Although Justin has been admired for his idealism, intellect, and achievements, he is most proud of his public outreach, especially to young people, to promote science and to pass along the joy that science can bring to our everyday lives and careers. Both he and Debbie always considered students to be the heart of any educational department or institution and wished to give students more opportunities to be involved in their programs and to help direct the scientific and zoological futures.
Photo: Debbie and Justin when they met in 1970. Justin Schmidt personal collection, used with permission.