The investigation of how birds go through the process of orienting themselves navigationally and migrating great distances so successfully has been advanced notably by the work of Kenneth Able of the Department of Biological Sciences. In his 26 years on the faculty, Able has used a combination of innovative laboratory research and tireless field work to uncover the elements which determine the development of birds' orientation capacities and behavior.

Despite increased competition for ever tight research funding, Able's work has received almost continuous support from the National Science Foundation since 1974. Through use of "cue-conflict type experiments," he has demonstrated that birds use the plane of polarized light, especially at sunset, to determine migration direction. And he has successfully documented these "compass capabilities" in birds, and their development, during the first few months of a bird's life.

Able has authored more than 35 papers on his major research focus in just the last 10 years, many of them appearing in such premier publications as Nature magazine. He was honored in 1996 with the William Brewster Memorial Award by the American Ornithologists' Union.

His University service has included dozens of participations on thesis committees, service on numerous advisement, search and curricular committees, and membership on University councils, budget and academic panels, and mentoring programs. Professionally he is a fellow and former treasurer of the American Ornithologists Union and a member of the American Society of Naturalists, among several scientific and ecological organizations.

He is a role model to students, in large part because of his decades-long dedication to significant research. As a result, he has also trained several of his undergraduate and graduate students in scientific research techniques, directly supervising some 20 graduate students and closely guiding more than 30 undergraduate students in individualized research projects.

1997 Excellence Awards