Advertisement

Ruth D. Turner; Professor Was Expert on Shipworms

Ruth D. Turner, 85, a Harvard University professor and curator of malacology at the university’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. Known affectionately as Lady Wormwood, Turner wrote more than 100 publications, almost all of them on teredos, a species of mollusks commonly called shipworms. The aquatic equivalent of termites, shipworms are known for devouring sunken ships and wooden piers. Teredos are the reason there was so little wood left on the wreckage of the Titanic when it was located by Robert Ballard in 1985, 73 years after it sank. Turner said the only way to control shipworms is to destroy their food supply and treat waterfront structures with preservatives like creosote. “Don’t let any trash wood lie around,” she said. “Chop it up and get rid of it.” An accomplished diver, Turner was the first woman in the Alvin, the deep-sea submersible owned and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod. Born in Melrose, Mass., Turner graduated from Bridgewater State Teachers College, earned her master’s degree in ornithology from Cornell University and a doctorate in biology from Radcliffe. In 1976, she became one of Harvard’s first tenured women professors. A devoted teacher and mentor of researchers, Turner also served as co-editor of the scientific journal Johnsonia. “Do what sets you on fire,” she told her students. “If you do what you love, you’ll succeed.” On April 30 at a nursing home in Waltham, Mass.


Advertisement