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In Memoriam: Terry L. Yates

Sitting AIBS Board member Terry L. Yates has died after a brief illness at age 57. We at AIBS note his passing with great sadness and a profound sense of loss to both science and human fellowship. Terry was Vice President for Research and Economic Development at the University of New Mexico, and included among his many other official duties at the time of his death the immediate past presidency of the Natural Science Collections Alliance, whose statement on Terry is online here. The NSC Alliance recognizes, as does AIBS, that Terry worked worked tirelessly on the national stage to increase awareness of the vitally important research in biological diversity, evolution, and ecology that is conducted at our nation's natural science collections and museums.

“It was his exuberance you remember most about Terry,” says UNM President David Schmidly in a statement. The UNM statement goes on to say:

“He was one of the first graduate students I taught at Texas Tech in the mid-1970’s," continues Schmidly, "and he was always ready to examine a new idea or take a trip to the field to explore a theory. I think he was happier out in the field than he was behind a desk.”

Yates was best known for his groundbreaking research on the source of Hantavirus, a serious respiratory disease that is frequently fatal. When people in the southwest began dying from an unknown viral disease in 1993, Yates worked with researchers from the National Centers for Disease Control to track down the cause.

Using specimens Yates had collected over the years and placed in the museum of Southwestern Biology, they were able to pinpoint a species of deer mice as the carrier of the Sin Nombre Virus. The National Science Foundation named research done by Yates and his collaborator Robert Parmeter on the Hanta Virus as one of its “Nifty 50” discoveries ­ projects funded that have had the biggest impact on the lives of Americans.

His most recently published paper explored the relationship between weather and deer mice populations. Yates and his co-authors were able to predict increased risk to humans in specific parts of the Four Corners area after studying satellite photos of vegetation growth. In 2006 his work gave the New Mexico Department of Public Health the scientific evidence it needed to give advance warning to New Mexicans living in certain areas of the state that they faced an increased risk for exposure to hantavirus.

Yates was appointed Vice Provost for Research at UNM in 2001, and served as Vice President for Research and Economic Development from 2004 to the present. He was also the Curator of Genomic Resources for the Museum of Southwestern Biology at UNM, and a professor of biology and pathology, and he helped create the Long Term Ecological Research site near Socorro, used by UNM students involved in a wide variety of research projects.

Yates came to UNM in 1978 as an assistant professor of biology. During his tenure as vice-provost and vice-president for research, the total amount of research awards rose from $247 million to nearly $300 million.

He was a member of the Board of Life Sciences of the National Academy of Sciences, and an honorary member of the Society of Mammalogists, the highest honor that professional society bestows. He published 126 research papers in refereed outlets, and chaired 17 Ph.D. students. In August the UNM regents gave Yates a Regents Meritorious Service Award."

A memorial service to celebrate Terry's life and work will be held on Friday, Dec. 14 at 2 p.m. in Popejoy Hall in the Center for the Arts on the UNM campus.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that contributions be made to the Terry Yates Endowment for Field Mammalogy at the University of New Mexico. Please sent contributions to the Yates Endowment in care of the UNM Foundation, Inc., MSC07 4260, 1 University of New Mexico, 87131-0001.

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