Q&A with Fred Eller, one of two recipients of the 2020 AOCS Fellow Award
A brief bio: Fred J. Eller, III is a Research Chemist in the Functional Foods Research Unit at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, (USDA-ARS) in Peoria, Illinois. Dr. Eller is a native of Saint Paul, Minnesota and received his BSc and MSc degrees from the University of Minnesota and his PhD from the University of Florida. He joined ARS in 1990, initially investigating insect chemical attractants (e.g., the isolation and identification of the aggregation pheromone of the pepper weevil). He subsequently redirected his research efforts and focused on the utilization of supercritical fluids for the extraction and analysis of lipids under the tutelage and mentorship of Drs. Jerry W. King and Gary R. List.
Dr. Eller has been an active member of the American Oil Chemists' Society since 1996 and has organized symposia at AOCS Annual Meetings, held leadership roles in the Analytical Division, served on a variety of AOCS committees and currently serves as an Associate Editor for the Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society (2007-present). Dr. Eller was awarded the AOCS Herbert J. Dutton Award in 2013. Dr. Eller has authored or co-authored 90 publications and is first inventor on two United States Patents. Dr. Eller has made 46 presentations at national and international meetings. His current research interests include the utilization of critical fluids for the extraction, counter-current fractionation and processing of agricultural materials, as well as the isolation and identification of bioactive natural products He is especially interested in cedarwood oil extraction, bioactivity and utilization.
1) What was your reaction when you learned you had won the award?
When I learned that I had been selected to receive the 2020 AOCS Fellow Award, I felt both honored and humbled, considering the list of renowned researchers who have preceded me in receiving this award. When I first began my career as a Research Entomologist at the USDA Northern Regional Research Center (currently the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research), I would have never imagined ever being involved with the American Oil Chemists' Society, let alone receiving this prestigious award. Interestingly, the first insect pheromone I isolated and identified was ethyl palmitoleate, so maybe fatty acids were always in my future! I am very thankful for all the opportunities and success that have come my way through my association with the AOCS and its members.
2) How did you get started in the field that you are studying or working in?
My formal training is in entomology. My interest in insect chemical ecology began after I started working as an undergraduate technician for Dr. Robert Bartelt who was investigating sawfly pheromones at the University of Minnesota. I subsequently began my master’s research there and discovered that ethyl palmitoleate served as an attractant for an insect parasitoid. After completing my Ph.D. at the University of Florida, I took a post-doctoral position the Northern Regional Research Lab (now the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research) where I studied the aggregation pheromones of the pepper weevil and plum curculio. I eventually took a permanent position with Dr. Jerry King utilizing critical fluids for extraction and fractionation of lipids. This position led to studies of the extraction and analysis of cedarwood oil using carbon dioxide. This research has grown into studies on the use of cedarwood oil as an insect repellent, insecticide and for protecting wood from termites and wood-decay fungi which continues today.
3) Can you tell us about your current research?
Currently, I am studying essential oils from several species of trees. I am especially interested in Eastern red cedar and related species. I am investigating different extraction methods to determine the most efficient means to remove the essential oils from wood. The extracted essential oils are then chemically characterized, formulated and tested for their biological activity. The essential oils are used to pressure treat wood and subsequently the treated wood is tested for resistance against wood-destroying species like termites and decay fungi. In addition, the essential oils are evaluated for their repellency against ants and toxicity against insect pests such as mosquitoes, biting flies as well as ticks. It is my goal to find expanded uses for abundant underutilized natural resources.
4) What challenges have you overcome during your course of study or your career?
The biggest challenge I have faced in my career was securing a permanent full-time position as an independent scientist. Attaining that goal has made my life much less stressful.
5) What advice can you share on how you have achieved success thus far in your career, whether that be entering a graduate program or a lengthy career in a prestigious position?
There are countless factors that can affect one’s career. One needs to focus on those you can control yourself. Working hard, getting along with others, having a good attitude and patience are all things you can control. I believe, if you focus on these things, you will have a successful career wherever it might take you.
6) Why did you decide to volunteer with AOCS in so many capacities including on the Smalley Committee, LPP Committee, the Uniform Methods Committee, and on the Forum Organizing Committee for the AOCS Pulse Science and Technology forum?
I believe that what you get out of a professional society is related to what you put into the society. Over the years, I been offered opportunities to serve in many areas. I have always tried to volunteer my time and abilities as best I could. I enjoy working on the committees and I have met many colleagues through this service. I like to think I have made some positive contributions to AOCS.
7) How has AOCS helped you in your career?
I have formed many professional connections which have furthered my career. I learned a great deal about the peer-review publication process through my associate editor position which has definitely helped me in my personal publication process. The Annual Meeting is always a great source of ideas and inspiration for my research. The contacts I have made through the society are a valuable source of information and research collaborations.
8) What are some fond memories or experiences you’ve had from your AOCS service?
My fondest memories are undoubtedly those of informal gatherings with my colleagues and friends where we can talk, laugh, share food and drink, and maybe even discuss lipids!
Check out the AOCS Awards video featuring him: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6Q0n-hqJDI