Florida Tech professor still abuzz about mosquitoes

Dr. Gordon Patterson and his wife, Joy, stand near the entrance to Florida Tech's Joy and Gordon Patterson Botanical Garden.

If you want the skinny on mosquitoes, talk to Dr. Gordon Patterson, who wrote the book, or actually, two books, on Florida’s most-despised insect.

A professor at Florida Tech’s School of Arts and Communication, Patterson specializes in history, particularly environmental history, as in the case of mosquitoes. 

The author of "The Mosquito Wars," a look at mosquito control in Florida, Patterson also penned "The Mosquito Crusades," which examines how America as a whole has dealt with the pesky and persevering bug.

There might be a third mosquito-themed volume in Patterson’s arsenal as he closely monitors promising research that focuses on genetically engineered male mosquitoes being released to breed with the native girls. When the happy couple mates, their eggs will supposedly be infertile, and the mosquito population is eventually slashed down to nothing. Other research focuses on introducing specific bacteria into the mosquito population to make their eggs infertile. Both are nice ideas, if they work.

Patterson’s long-standing mosquito research has not gone unnoticed. In 2018, he received recognition from the U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy for contributions to the history of mosquito and vector-borne diseases. He has been a keynote speaker at mosquito control conferences in Australia and Europe and delivered a special lecture to the American Mosquito Control Association, which also presented him with a Presidential Award. He was invited to lead a Department of Molecular Biology and Immunology Seminar at Johns Hopkins University and received a China Field Study Summer Award from the Chinese Ministry of Education. Patterson arrived at Florida Tech 39 years ago. It was love at first sight of the campus, thanks to The Jungle, as the university’s Botanical Garden is fondly known.

"It was the garden that hired me, because I wandered into The Jungle and I figured that if an engineering school had a garden like this, it must be OK," Patterson said.

Patterson admittedly has a soft spot for botanical oases. He met his wife, Joy, at Northwestern University’s Shakespeare Garden when the couple were undergraduates, and they married at the Botanical Garden of UCLA, where Patterson earned his Ph.D.

Since their arrival in Melbourne four decades ago, the couple have continued their love affair with Florida Tech’s Jungle, participating in work days there and supporting it financially. In 2019, the garden was renamed the Joy and Gordon Patterson Botanical Garden.

Almost 40 years later, the Botanical Garden remains a source of happiness for Patterson, even if the mosquitoes do occasionally swarm.

"It is so wonderful to visit and see families enjoying the garden, because nobody gets into an argument while in a garden," he said.