The I. E. Melhus Graduate Student Symposium, named in honor of Irving E. Melhus, features presentations on graduate thesis work that highlights research aimed at providing a better understanding of various areas of plant pathology.
Irving E. Melhus
Dr. Irving E. Melhus was a renowned teacher, innovative researcher, and outstanding departmental administrator at Iowa State College (ISC). Indeed, he was a true pioneer among plant pathologists. When, in 1912, he earned his Ph.D. degree under the guidance of L. R. Jones at the University of Wisconsin, he was the first person from Wisconsin to be awarded a doctorate in plant pathology. During a four-year stint with the USDA’s Office of Vegetable Crop Diseases, between 1912 and 1916, Dr. Melhus showed that the pathogen responsible for late blight of potato, Phytophthora infestans
, overwinters in the tubers. In 1918, as an assistant professor at ISC, Dr. Melhus was among the early leaders of a nationwide effort to control stem rust through the eradication of the common barberry. Later, he would produce classic work on soilborne pathogens of Iowa crops that led directly to the use of several new or improved disease control methods.
In 1937, he and G. C. Kent wrote The Elements of Plant Pathology. From 1929 to 1946, Dr. Melhus served as chair of the school’s Botany Department, during which time he was instrumental in leading the department to national prominence. In 1946, Dr. Melhus founded the ISC-Guatemala Tropical Research Center for the study of corn improvement. This was the first overseas experiment station operated by a U.S. university, and Dr. Melhus led the program during its formative years between 1946 and 1953. A hybrid developed at the station continues to be the most widely cultivated corn in Guatemala.
Dr. Melhus was a recognized leader among his colleagues. He served as president of APS in 1926 and was elected a fellow of APS in 1965. Additionally, he was a member of the Iowa Academy of Sciences, the Botanical Society of America, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Melhus married Elizabeth Williamson on December 26, 1907. They had two daughters, Sarah (Hoyman) and Janet (Wallin). He died on November 10, 1969, in Ames, IA.