2015 ACS Award for Innovation in Chemistry in Agriculture

Sponsored by BASF Corporation

Tom SparksDr. Thomas C. Sparks is a Research Fellow in Discovery Research-Insect Management Group, at Dow AgroSciences, and is an internationally recognized leader in research concerning the discovery of new insect control agents, the biochemistry and toxicology of insecticides, and insecticide resistance. Born in San Francisco, Dr. Sparks grew up in a small farming community in California’s Central Valley, where growing peaches, plums, nectarines, oranges, grapes, almonds, and other fruit was and continues to be the mainstay of the local economy. He obtained a BA in biology (chemistry minor, 1973) from California State University, Fresno and a PhD in entomology (1978) from the University of California, Riverside under the guidance of Dr. Bruce Hammock (now at UC Davis) focusing on insect endocrinology, biochemistry, and toxicology. Dr. Sparks credits the broad training and inspiration he received in Dr. Hammock’s lab as outstanding preparation for his future roles in science.

In 1978, Dr. Sparks joined the faculty of the Department of Entomology at Louisiana State University as the insect toxicologist where his research covered endocrine regulation of
insect metamorphosis, insecticide resistance, and insecticidebiochemistry and toxicology. A full professor, he left LSU in 1989 and joined the agrochemical research group at the newly-formed joint venture between Eli Lilly and The Dow Chemical Company,
DowElanco (now Dow AgroSciences), where he has worked in Discovery Research for the past 26 years.

Although Dr. Sparks has spent most of his career in industry research, he has continued to publish widely. He holds 25 patents/patent applications and has published extensively with more than 155 referred journal publications, book chapters, and other articles. Many of these publications have come from his leading a variety of discovery efforts that resulted in the innovation of numerous other insecticidal chemistries—several of which continue as active areas for Dow AgroSciences. Among his publications are several that point to a novel area of insecticidal discovery and that document the application of artificial neural networks (ANN) to the quantitative structure activity relationships (QSAR) of the spinosyns, a unique family of insecticidal natural products. The application of ANN-based QSAR to the exploration of the spinosyns came about because he was concerned that conventional approaches to exploring and exploiting the structure activity relationships of the complex natural products were not yielding improvements in insecticidal efficacy. This led new directions in the spinosyn chemistry and to the discovery of spinetoram. This compound provided improved insecticidal efficacy while maintaining highly-desirable environmental and toxicological profiles.

Dr. Sparks is a co-recipient of a 2008 EPA Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award for spinetoram and the 2009 Scientist of the Year from R&D Magazine, the first for a scientist working in agriculture. He is the recipient of the ACS International
Award for Research in Agrochemicals and is an Entomological Society of America Fellow. He is currently a member of the Insecticide Resistance Action Committee (IRAC), the AGRO Executive Committee, and the Editorial Boards for Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology and Pest Management Science. He was an organizing member for symposia at IUPAC’s 12th and 13th International Congresses on Pesticide Chemistry. Dr. Sparks and his wife Sandi have three children, Nicole, Kristina, and Janine; two sons-in-law, Jason and Abhay; and two granddaughters, Aria and Nayah. He enjoys writing, technology
history, and photography.