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In memoriam Robert R. L. Guillard February 5, 1921-September 25, 2016.

Robert "Bob" Guillard was an icon in all senses of the word. Many tributes to him have been and will be written (see Wikfors 1996, Anderson 2011, Sunda 2017). This is but a brief overview of a life very well-lived and shared, with contributions from colleagues and friends.

Born in New York City on February 5, 1921, Bob's love for the natural environment was firmly established during his time with his grandparents in Stonington, Connecticut. An early scholar, Bob completed grammar school in 7 years, graduated from Townsend Harris High School in New York City in 3 years, and earned a B.S. in physics (City College New York) at the age of 20. Bob was hired by the U.S. Navy to install and maintain antimagnetic mine equipment. He continued to pursue course work in the evenings and taught at New York University and CCNY. During this time, he was smitten by a botany professor and decided that he wanted to become a "naturalist." He went to Yale in 1949 and received a Master's degree (1951) en route to his Ph.D. (1954) under the tutelage of G. Evelyn Hutchinson. Soon after, he was awarded a summer fellowship to the Woods Hole Oceano-graphic Institute--he changed fields from botany to oceanography. After a short period in Hawaii, Bob was hired by the U.S. Bureau of Commercial Fisheries Marine Laboratory in Milford, CT, where he was challenged by Victor Loosanoff with the task of "figuring out how to grow oysters." As Bob recounted it, his first thought was that the little oysters would need to be fed and he reasoned that they were partial to what was in the water column. That was when he began isolating phytoplankton and developing the techniques to culture them in volume. His first publication was in the Proceedings of the National Shellfisheries Association, and it launched shellfish aquaculture as we know it today--the path to f/2 was being laid. The first paper demonstrated that individual phytoplankton isolates differed in their nutritional value to oysters, thereby establishing the foundation for "the Mil-ford Method" of feeding hatchery seed of shellfish selected strains of microalgae which was further developed by Ravenna Ukeles and others. Without Bob's pioneering work in phytoplankton culture and nutritional value, the rearing of shellfish in captivity would not be possible.


In 1958, John Ryther recruited Bob to Woods Hole where he was a senior scientist and, in 1981, he moved to the recently established Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and instituted the collection of algae and other microscopic marine organisms that was designated by Congress as the Provasoli-Guillard National Center for Culture of Marine Phytoplankton to honor two men whose research and mentoring had provided the world with a first-class source of algae for research and aquaculture. Anybody in the field of algal culture knows "f/2" but few realize that this was but a sideline for Bob. He was a global leader in the physiological ecology of phytoplankton. Bob reduced the curiosity that drove his science to this question: "Why do they live where they do?" Considering that phytoplankton cannot control their position, the question becomes almost metaphysical and leads one into the "n-dimensional hyperspace (Bob's phrase)" of physics, chemistry, and biology combined. Bob excelled at creating an environment in which ephemeral microbes could thrive and be sustained and, in 1962, he published a paper with John Ryther that became one of the most cited papers in marine science (over 3,400 citations at last note) as it described in detail the most successful algal-culture medium ever developed.

Bob was anything but a one-dimensional scientist. He had a wide array of interests and talents outside the laboratory, including fencing (he was an instructor), Morris dancing (one of the best in the country), target shooting (his keenness for guns was legendary), and Transcendental Mediation [TM] (TM), a practice he shared with his wife, Ruth, a TM teacher. His penchant for collecting all manner of what most would deem junk was well known, and those same doubters always knew where to go when they needed some esoteric item. Bob was recycling long before it was a word!

Bob's publication record was impressive by any standard, and his advice was in constant demand. Ever the teacher, one frequently got far more than bargained for when they asked what they initially deemed a "simple question." Out-of-the-blue phone calls that began with the words, "I've been thinking... " could lead to a lifetime's worth of questions needing answers. There are countless "Bob stories" and, whereas some are not entirely suitable for publication, these will be saved for later celebrations. He was generous with his time and expertise and never lost his curiosity and questioning mind. In 1995, Bob was named an Honored Life Member of the National Shellfisheries Association and, in 1998, he was presented with the Honorary Life Member Award from the World Aquaculture Society.

Bob passed away in his sleep on September 25, 2016 in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, leaving behind his wife of 53 years, Ruth, three stepsons and their families, and a barn full of decades of accumulated treasures--"just in case I need them someday" (including, one presumes, all those boxes of little blue paper circles that separate Millipore filters).

Bob would scoff at all the attention being paid to his accomplishments. His curiosity was at the core of his existence, his keen intellect and sharp wit were evident even after the shortest discussion with him. Scholar, old Yankee, friend--it was an honor, privilege, and most entertaining to have known him.


Groton, Connecticut


Milford, Connecticut

Anderson, R. A. 2011. Robert Guillard celebrates 90th birthday. The Limnology and Oceanography Bulletin 20:54-58.

Guillard, R. R. L. 1957. Some factors in the use of nanoplankton cultures as food for larval and juvenile bivalves. Proc. Natl. Shellfish. Assoc. 48:134-142.

Guillard, R. R. L. & J. Ryther. 1962. Studies of marine planktonic diatoms. I. Cyclotella nana Hustedt and Detonula confervaceae (cleve) Gran. Can. J. Microbiol. 8:229-239.

Sunda, W. G. 2017. In memoriam Robert R. L. Guillard. Phycologica 56:354-358.

Wikfors, G. 1996. Robert R. L. Guillard honored life member National Shellfisheries Association. J. Shellfish Res. 15:533-534.
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Author:Shumway, Sandra E.; Wikfors, Gary H.
Publication:Journal of Shellfish Research
Article Type:In memoriam
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2017
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