[Annelida] Nathan Wendell Riser, 1920-2006

Kevin Eckelbarger KevinE at maine.edu
Mon Aug 7 12:05:14 EST 2006

Colleagues:  Prof. Nathan Wendell Riser, known to his colleagues as 
"Pete" and to his graduate students as "Doc", passed away at his home 
in Swampscott, Massachusetts on July 26, 2006 at the age of 86. In 
many ways an old school naturalist, he published on the biology and 
systematics of dorvilleid, nerillid, protodrilid, and syllid 
polychaetes of the Gulf of Maine, non-Otoplanid Proseriate 
turbellarians from the region, and nemerteans from New England and 
elsewhere. After serving in the Navy Medical Corps during WWII, he 
did his Ph.D. (awarded 1949) on tapeworms with Prof. Tage Skogsberg 
at the Hopkins Marine Station (Stanford University) at a time when 
American marine biology was coming into full bloom. Ed Ricketts (made 
famous in John Steinbeck's book Canary Row) had recently published 
"Between Pacific Tides" (1939) and was still collecting invertebrates 
from local tide pools when Riser was a student. He held various 
teaching and research positions at the University of Pennsylvania, 
Fisk University (as Chair of Biology), Woods Hole Oceanographic 
Institution, the Marine Biological Lab, and the University of New 
Hampshire before assuming a faculty position at Northeastern 
University in Boston in 1957 where he served as Chair of Biology. 
While teaching invertebrate zoology in New Hampshire during the 
summers of 1950-1957, he was joined by many prominent colleagues 
including Marion Pettibone who became a curator at the Smithsonian 
Institution. For many years he also led collecting expeditions to 
northern Maine with many leading invertebrate zoologists including 
Libbie Hyman. His interest in interstitial polychaetes attracted many 
European polychaetologists who joined him during his many collecting 
trips throughout New England.
         In 1967 he was appointed the founding Director of 
Northeastern University's Marine Science Institute (now Marine 
Science Center) in Nahant, a position he held until his retirement in 
1985. While Director, he hosted countless invertebrate zoologists 
from throughout the world who visited New England to collect 
specimens and attend conferences. Although worms were his first love, 
he had a general appreciation for biology so his friends and 
colleagues represented many diverse fields. Over the years, he 
influenced many undergraduate and graduate students who went on to 
professional careers in medicine and biology. His interests were very 
broad but he always had a special fondness for polychaetes and 
nemerteans, in particular. His wife (Jean) told me she had to take 
him to the hospital emergency room a few years ago with a heart 
problem and when the attending physician asked him what he did for a 
living he replied: "I'm a doctor too - I'm a doctor of worms."
         Doc Riser continued to conduct his research at the Nahant 
lab until very recently and he maintained an active correspondence 
with his students and colleagues. He continued limited field work 
until his health failed but he went to his lab nearly every day to 
work on research papers and he never lost his enthusiasm for 
invertebrate zoology. It is appropriate that the Nahant lab is 
located a short distance from the private summer cottage and marine 
laboratory of Harvard Professor Louis Agassiz, the founder of 
American marine biology in the mid-19th century. Agassiz was a 
pioneer in marine science education and he promoted the formation of 
seaside laboratories where students could "Study nature, not books." 
Like Agassiz, Doc Riser was a teacher and he used the "Agassiz 
method" of instruction by introducing students to the beauty of 
living invertebrates. I was his second Ph.D. student at Northeastern 
(1974) and today I teach invertebrate zoology at the University of 
Maine in much the same way that he taught me: I take students into 
the field to collect and I allow them to discover the beauty of 
invertebrates - especially the worms.
         Northeastern University will hold a memorial service for 
Prof. Riser on Monday August 14 at the Nahant Country Club at 
1PM.   To see a partial list of his publications and graduate 
students, visit the web site for the Marine Science Center and click 
on "Events" and "Riser Lecture": http://www.marinescience.neu.edu/

Kevin J. Eckelbarger.
Director, Darling Marine Center
University of Maine
193 Clark's Cove Road
Walpole, Maine 04573
Phone: 207-563-3146 (ex. 203)
FAX: 207-563-3119


Professor of Marine Sciences
School of Marine Sciences
University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469 

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