Wergin Named Beltsville Area's Outstanding
Senior Research Scientist By
February 7, 2001
BELTSVILLE, Md., Feb. 7Cytologist William P. Wergin
has been named an Area Senior Research Scientist of 2000" by the
Agricultural Research Service, chief
research agency of the U.S. Department of
Formerly a scientist with the ARS
Laboratory at Beltsville, Md., Wergin retired from Federal service in
Dr. Wergin is being honored for his international
leadership as a truly renaissance scientist for developing innovative scanning
electron microscope (SEM) methodologies and adapting them to solving
agricultural problems, said ARS Administrator Floyd P. Horn.
"His research has had significant impact in several diverse
fields of agriculture--studies in food safety, bacteriology, nematology,
entomology, post- harvest physiology, seed quality, hydrology, meteorology,
physics and glaciology.
Horn will present plaques to Wergin and 15 other ARS scientists
at a 1 p.m. ceremony Feb. 7 at the agency's Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural
Research Center. Awardees will also receive cash awards and additional
Wergin is the senior scientist of the year for ARS' Beltsville
Area, which includes laboratories in Maryland and at the U.S. National
Arboretum, Washington, D.C. He is renowned internationally for interfacing a
low-temperature stage with a field emission scanning electron microscope and
then developing coating techniques to facilitate generation of high-resolution
images of fresh, frozen biological materials.
Wergins state-of-the-art, low-temperature procedure (LT)
uses liquid nitrogen that instantly chills specimens to -320 degrees F. This
keeps them nonchemically fixed, but freshly frozen while the SEM images can be
observed and photographed. The highly magnified, clear photographs possible
from these LT-SEM images allow minute details of biological materials to be
seen in three dimensions--for the first time ever.
By pairing the LT-SEM with his coating technique, Wergin was
first to demonstrate that macromolecules representing protein-lipid complexes
could be photographed intact and in incredibly fine detail. Those studies
contributed to the commercial development and introduction of a high-resolution
cryosystem that is currently marketed by Oxford Scientific Instruments.
Wergin is the world authority on using LT-SEM to visualize snow
crystals. By applying the technology to the study of snowflakes and other types
of winter precipitation, researchers in diverse fields like hydrology,
meteorology, ice physics and glaciology help determine the amount of water
present in winter snowpack. Such information ultimately will explain the role
of snowpacks in providing water for agriculture and hydroelectrical production,
as well as floods and avalanches.
He has adapted this SEM technology to the study of nematodes and
mites, magnifying them more than 50,000 times. This allows their very delicate
structural details to be observed at different angles, in three dimensions,
fully hydrated, and in natural positions on their hosts. The high magnification
makes it possible to observe host-parasite interactions in a natural state.
Such information allows systematists to form procedures to identify and
classify organisms with potential as biological control agents.
During his 30 years with ARS, Wergin has written or co-authored
more than 200 articles for peer-reviewed journals and over 150 abstracts,
popular articles and book chapters. He has been an invited speaker at many
international meetings and has received numerous research grants and awards, as
well as several USDA certificates of merit.
Besides his outstanding research, Wergin has been a
distinguished leader in mentoring younger and visiting scientists--along with
doctoral, post-doctoral, and high school students--in his research unit. Two of
the high school students developed science fair projects that earned them
partial college scholarships.
He is a member of several professional societies including the
Microscopy Society of America and the Society of Nematologists. He serves on
the board of directors for the Foundation for Advances in Medicine and Science
and is a fellow in the Royal Miscroscopical Society and the Washington Academy
Born in Manitowoc, Wis., Wergin spent his childhood there,
graduating from Lincoln High School. He received his B.S. in genetics and Ph.D.
in botany from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He lives in Adelphi, Md.,
with his wife Mary (Guse). They have two children, W. Peter Wergin, Jr., of
North Potomac, Md., and Anne Baumgartner of Gaithersburg, Md.
Scientific contact: William P. Wergin, ARS
Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-9027, fax (301) 504-8923,