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Scientist Obituary: Dr. Ruth Patrick, 'Pioneer Environmental Activist'

The Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

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Dr. Ruth Patrick, a pioneering botanist who developed methods to measure the quality of freshwater ecosystems, passed away this week at the age of 105. She has been called the “foremost authority on America’s river systems” and a “pioneer environmental activist.”

Patrick was born in 1907. After graduating from high school, she resisted her mother’s wishes for her to marry and instead decided to study botany. She earned her Ph.D. in 1934, and began work with the Academy of Natural Sciences as an assistant curator of microscopy. As one of the few women in her field, Patrick would remain at the organization for eight years without pay. She would eventually serve as chairwoman of the academy’s board from 1973-1976.

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Dr. Ruth Patrick

Patrick went on to advise presidents on issues such as acid rain and water pollution, including President Lyndon B. Johnson and President Ronald Reagan. She received the National Medal of Science from President Bill Clinton in 1996.

Said a colleague from Yale: “She was worried about and addressing water pollution before the rest of us even thought of focusing on it.”

Read more in Dr. Patrick’s New York Times obituary .