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This Lectureship was established in 1981 by ARS to honor the memory of Sterling B. Hendricks and to recognize scientists who have made outstanding contributions to the chemical science of agriculture. Hendricks contributed to many diverse scientific disciplines, including soil science, mineralogy, agronomy, plant physiology, geology, and chemistry. The deadline for nominations has been extended to January 29, 2021.  For more information, direct inquiries to

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Co-sponsored by AGFD and AGRO Divisions

2020 Awardee

Thomas C. Sparks is a leading entomologist in the field of agrochemistry. His pioneering research in green chemistry resulted in spinetoram, one of the most advanced insecticides to reach the market that couples excellent efficacy with a favorable toxicological and environmental risk profile.

Spinetoram received the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Chemistry Award in 2008. Since then, the industry has integrated spinosyns (compounds from the fermentation of the bacteria Saccharopolyspora spinosa) into several pest control programs around the world. By 2018, spinetoram’s total sales reached more than $1.4 billion. The spinosyns are currently registered in 80 countries around the world. Recently, Thomas and his team published groundbreaking research on the development of novel synthetic spinosyn mimics that are as effective in the field as spinetoram.

Born in San Francisco, Thomas grew up in a small farming community in California’s Central Valley. Always interested in insects, and later in chemistry, he obtained a B.A. in biology (chemistry minor, 1973) from California State University, Fresno, and a Ph.D. 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. Thomas credits the broad training and inspiration he received in Dr. Hammock’s lab as outstanding preparation for his future roles in science.

He was a faculty member at Louisiana State University’s Department of Entomology from 1978 to 1989, and conducted pioneering research on insect juvenile hormone (JH) and JH esterase, insecticide biochemistry, and resistance. His research on JH esterase catalyzed more than 500 scientific papers by various authors on these agrochemical targets.

In 1989, Thomas joined Elanco, which became part of Dow AgroSciences, and shortly thereafter formed the Macrolide Research Group. This group coordinated much of the early spinosad-related research and development from which spinetoram emerged as a successful product. Thomas remained at Dow AgroSciences (now Corteva Agriscience) for nearly 30 years in Discovery Research until his retirement in 2019, conducting research on new crop protection compounds, especially natural products. He now is an independent consultant.

Thomas holds more than 47 patents and pending patents and has authored more than 150 refereed journal publications, book chapters, and other articles. He has received numerous prestigious awards, including the American Chemical Society’s Kenneth A. Spencer (2019), Innovation (2015; first time for an industry scientist), and International (2012) awards; and recently, the Entomological Society of America (ESA) 2018 Recognition Award in Insect Physiology, Biochemistry, and Toxicology (also the first time for an industry scientist). In 2009, R&D Magazine named Tom Scientist of the Year (first ever for a scientist in the field of agriculture) and, in 2012, he was named an ESA Fellow.

He is a former member of the Insecticide Resistance Action Committee (IRAC) and the AGRO Executive Committee and is presently on the Editorial Boards for Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology and Pest Management Science. He was an organizing member for symposia at several IUPAC International Congresses on Pesticide Chemistry.

Thomas and his wife Sandi have three children, Nicole, Kristina, and Janine; two sons-in-law, Jason and Abhay; and four grandchildren. He enjoys writing, technology history, and photography.

Past Awardees


Norman E. Borlaug, Nobel Laureate, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, Mexico City, Mexico


Warren L. Butler, University of California-San Diego


Melvin Calvin, Nobel Laureate, University of California-Berkeley


Frederick Ausubel, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts


Alan Putnam, Michigan State University, East Lansing


Ralph Hardy, Cornell University and BioTechnica International, Ithaca, New York


Mary-Dell Chilton, Ciba-Geigy Corporation, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina


Bruce N. Ames, University of California, Berkeley


Sanford A. Miller, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Texas


Roy L. Whistle, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana


Peter S. Eagleson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge


John E. Casida, University of California-Berkeley


Philip H. Abelson, Deputy Editor, Science, and Scientific Advisor to AAAS, Washington, DC


Wendell L. Roelofs, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York


Winslow R. Briggs, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Stanford, California


Hugh D. Sisler, University of Maryland, College Park


Ernest Hodgson, North Carolina State University, Raleigh


Morton Beroza, USDA-ARS (retired), Beltsville, Maryland


Bruce D. Hammock, University of California-Davis


William S. Bowers, University of Arizona, Tuscon


Malcolm Thompson, USDA-ARS (retired), Beltsville, Maryland


Irvin E. Liener, University of Minnesota, St. Paul


Kriton Kleanthis Hatzios, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg


Robert L. Buchanan, Food and Drug Administration, College Park, Maryland


Donald L. Sparks, University of Delaware, Newark


Stanley B. Prusiner, Nobel Laureate, University of California, San Francisco


Bruce E. Dale, Michigan State University, East Lansing


Fergus M. Clydesdale, University of Massachusetts-Amherst


Charles J. Arntzen, Arizona State University-Tempe


Chris Somerville, Director of the Energy Biosciences Institute, Berkeley, California


Deborah P. Delmer, University of California-Davis


Eric Block, University at Albany, State University of New York


Keith Solomon, University of Guelph, Canada


Robert T. Fraley, Monsanto, Company, St. Louis, Missouri


James Tumlinson, Penn State, University Park


May R. Berenbaum, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign


John Pickett, Rothamsted Research, United Kingdom


James N. Seiber, University of California, Davis


John W. Finley, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge

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