Saturday, January 8, 2005

HAMPTON L. CARSON / 1914-2004

Geneticist earned praise
for studies of isle fruit fly

Hampton L. Carson, an evolutionary geneticist who was internationally renowned for his studies of the tiny Hawaiian fruit fly and contributions to the understanding of evolution, died Dec. 19. He was 90.

Allen Allison, Bishop Museum vice president for science, said Carson "is one of the most gifted scientists that's ever walked our fair shores. His accomplishments are extraordinary."

Evolutionary biologists worldwide are sending condolences to the University of Hawaii-Manoa, where Carson was professor emeritus of cell and molecular biology in the John A. Burns School of Medicine.

Colleagues said they will miss him not only as a brilliant scientist, but as an educator and "a nice man" who was always helpful. "He was one of these rare people who accomplish great things without being too pushy or egotistical about it," Allison said.

Carson joined the faculty in 1970 as an entomologist and researcher and retired in 1985, continuing his research with National Science Foundation funding.

Kenneth Kaneshiro, director of the UH Center for Conservation, Research & Training, who worked with Carson, said, "Hamp was one of the most important contributors to the understanding of the evolutionary processes that resulted in the tremendous number of unique species of Hawaii."

Carson was born in Philadelphia in 1914 and attended the University of Pennsylvania. He was a professor at Washington University from 1943 to 1956. He was a Fulbright Research Scholar in zoology at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

He became associated with UH as a visiting professor and participant in a UH-University of Texas project to study Hawaii's unique species of the fruit fly, Drosophila, during the summers from 1963 to 1967.

Allison said Carson "recognized tremendous opportunities" to understand the fundamentals of evolution through studies of fruit flies and how they diversified, which has helped understanding of chromosomal abnormalities in humans.

Carson's wife, Meredith, said she often went with him on field trips as a "collector of material (insects) in order to get proof of his theories." She said he was enthusiastic about discovering the "curious changes in these little flies, almost bizarre, as they moved from island to island."

Carson's body was donated to the UH medical school, and his ashes will be scattered in the forest at the research site, Meredith Carson said.

Besides his wife, Carson's survivors include sons Joseph and Edward.

A memorial service will be held from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the garden level of Jefferson Hall, East-West Center. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made through the UH Foundation to the Endowed Fund for Field Station Haleuanui.

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