Penn State to hold Gerald E. McClearn Memorial Symposium

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State's Department of Biobehavioral Health will host a research symposium to honor the memory of world-renowned scientist Gerald “Jerry” McClearn on July 21.

The Gerald E. McClearn Memorial Symposium will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Ruth Pike Auditorium in the Biobehavioral Health Building on the University Park campus.

Nancy Pedersen, professor of genetic epidemiology at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, will serve as keynote speaker. She was a graduate student mentored by McClearn when she began her research on Swedish twins, work that continues today.

Additional speakers will include:

  •  John Crabbe, behavioral neuroscience, Oregon Health & Science University
  •  José Fernández, nutrition sciences, University of Alabama, Birmingham
  •  Scott Hofer, Institute on Aging & Lifelong Health, University of Victoria, British Columbia
  •  Jenae Neiderhiser, psychology, Penn State
  •  Lawrence Rodriguez, information systems, Amgen, Inc.
  •  Lisa Tarantino, genetics, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Register here for the event or to learn more.

McClearn, retired Evan Pugh Professor of Health and Human Development and Biobehavioral Health at Penn State, died on Jan. 5, 2017. He was 89.

While at Penn State, McClearn’s research focused broadly on how genes and the environment influence complex biological traits. Specifically, he studied the effects of genetics and the environment on aging, using both mice and human twins as research subjects. He also continued groundbreaking work on alcohol consumption behaviors in mice. He retired with emeritus status from the Department of Biobehavioral Health in July of 2011.

McClearn’s famous study on octogenarian twins living in Sweden countered the prevailing assumption that as we age, environmental factors play a greater role in what we know and how we know it. Instead, the study demonstrated that as we age our genes contribute at least as much to our cognitive functioning as does our environment.

McClearn’s research achievements led to a number of awards and honors. In 2009, he received the Robert W. Kleemeier Award from the Gerontological Society of America. He also received the 2008 Longevity Prize from La Fondation IPSEN, the 1998 J. B. Isaacson Award from the International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism, the 1995 Pauline Schmitt Russell Distinguished Research Career Award from the Penn State College of Health and Human Development, the 1994 National Institute on Aging Merit Award, the 1991 Royal Patriotic Society Medal from Sweden, and the 1989 Dobzhansky Memorial Award for Eminent Research in Behavioral Genetics from the Behavior Genetics Association.

He was also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research and the Society of Behavioral Medicine.

In addition to conducting research and teaching, McClearn served on several national committees, including the National Research Council’s Committee on Population, the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research’s Executive Council, the National Institute on Aging’s National Advisory Council on Aging and the National Academy of Science’s National Research Council Committee on Substance Abuse and Habitual Behavior. He was author on more than 230 peer-reviewed publications and more than 40 book chapters. His book "Behavioral Genetics" was published through five editions.

McClearn was instructor at Yale University from 1954 to 1955; an assistant professor at Allegheny College from 1955 to 1956; an assistant and then associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1956 to 1965; and an associate and then full professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, from 1965 to 1981.

He joined the faculty at Penn State in 1981. From 1990 to 1992, he was the head of the Biobehavioral Health Program, and from 1992 to 1994, he was the dean of the College of Health and Human Development. From 1994 to 2002, he was the director of the Center for Developmental and Health Genetics.

McClearn earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Allegheny College and a master’s degree and doctorate in psychology from the University of Wisconsin. He conducted postdoctoral research at Edinburgh University in Scotland and University College in England.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Gerald E. McClearn Graduate Student Award in Health and Human Development, Office of Development, 325 HHD Building, University Park, PA 16802. Gifts can also be made online.

The purpose of the award is to honor and recognize outstanding achievement by a graduate student majoring in Biobehavioral Health at Penn State. 

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Last Updated April 10, 2017