Kenneth Roeder

Kenneth Roeder’s commitment to science and his students’ devotion to him never wavered, even in retirement. Too ill to travel to campus, he continued his research, using equipment his former students set up in the garage of his home in Concord, Massachusetts.

Roeder, H52, a professor of physiology at Tufts from 1951 to 1976 and biology department chair for five years, made landmark contributions to the field of insect physiology and animal behavior. “The potential of insects as ‘guinea pigs’ for solving basic physiological questions was little appreciated” before Roeder’s work, the National Academy of Sciences reported in a 1993 article.

Former students recall his personality as much as his science. “Dr. Roeder’s personal gentle style was most influential,” said Dick Morel, A66. “He embraced students who were curious, and his iconic pioneering work in neurobiology was an inspiration.” Another former student interviewed for the NAS article recalled how Roeder “taught us to ask questions, even in the face of established authority, to tinker and invent, to laugh at ourselves, to believe evidence, to play and to take joy in research.”

In his cluttered lab in Barnum Hall, Roeder, who died in 1979, had what he dubbed a “hands-across-the-kitchen-sink” relationship with Barnum’s cockroaches. He believed that the simpler nervous systems of invertebrates offered great opportunities to understand nervous systems in general. His two books, Insect Physiology and Nerve Cells and Insect Behavior, are cited as pioneering works.