February 25, 2024
Nan-Yao Su is a Florida 'Icon'

Photo: Eileen Escarda

Florida "Icon" Nan-Yao Su said, "If you are curious about a subject matter, you'll get really good at it."

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Nan-Yao Su is a Florida 'Icon'

Entomologist, inventor, Davie; age 64

Art Levy | 6/26/2015

» Catch a dragonfly and look at the wings, with all those veins, a very intricate network of veins. To me, that's fascinating, just totally fascinating, and beautiful.

» My son pulled an April Fool's joke on me. Then, two hours later, I come into my office and receive this email telling me I'm being inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame. I say, ‘Can you send me the email again tomorrow?'

» To create a termite-baiting system, you need a pesticide that is slow-acting, that won't kill them right away, one the termites can eat and bring back to the colony and feed to the others. When I came to the University of Florida in 1985, I wrote a letter to many chemical companies and I said this is the kind of chemical I'm looking for. Some chemical companies responded. Some didn't. Eventually, Dow Chemical told me they have this chemical called Hexaflumuron. I tested it, and it worked.

» I told the Dow Chemical people what we found, and they invited me to the headquarters to give a presentation. I told them that I put a wooden stake in the ground and prepared a sawdust bait in there with the compound you gave me, and the termites eat it and the whole colony gets killed. I thought they would get really excited, but they kind of looked at me and said, ‘Dr. Su, we cannot sell wooden stakes. That's not a product.'

» That night, I come home. Well, if a wooden stake is not a product, what can I do? So, I think sometimes when I pulled the wooden stakes out, the ground would collapse, so why don't I put the stake in a sleeve, a plastic sleeve, that has a hole in the side for the termites to get in and out? I drew a picture of it and sent it to Dow, and they go, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. That sounds good. We have a product now.' That's what became the Sentricon system.

» You know, I was always interested in biology, except that I hate blood. I can't handle blood. If you want to study biology — if the subject matter is an animal — then you have to dissect that animal, kill it, and there's blood. It's messy. So I decided to go into insects because you don't see blood. Well, they have blood, but it's not red.

» My wife, Jill, she was my partner, my best friend. We met in Japan so she we shared the Japanese experience together. We shared a lot. We lived together for 33 years. Jill's murder (last year) was a big, big shocker, not to mention my son went through so much trauma. He's the one who found the body. I used to weep every day. It's still very sad. Everything reminds me of her. Her clothes. I still have her clothes. I don't think I can ever remove any of those things.

» Florida has a lot of invasive species. People bring plants and animals here all the time, and the climate is so good. It encourages these invasive species to thrive. The problem is they're replacing native species. Somebody is going to have to pay attention to this. Otherwise, these invasive species will take over. Our job is to basically raise our voice and say this is happening — and government really needs to do something about it.

» When I was in Taiwan as a kid, I would go outside, no shoes, and run around all day looking for insects, looking under rocks, looking for something that moved.

» What you do is more important than money or materialistic gain.

» Robert Cade (the UF professor who invented Gatorade) is a hero. Dr. Cade, if you read what he had to go through to get Gatorade on the market, it's amazing. He was a pioneer. By encountering all of those difficulties, he made it easier for other inventors.

» I was 15 years old, almost 16, when my parents decided they wanted to move back to Taiwan from Japan. They asked me if I wanted to go with them or stay in Japan and finish high school by myself and then go to college by myself. Freedom! Initially, I thought I could eat out every day. Well, after one week of eating out, I got so sick of it. I started writing a letter to my mother: ‘How do you cook this?' So I became a very good cook. Of course, my grades dropped real quick. I had to do the cooking and the laundry by myself in addition to studying. I couldn't compete with those kids who were able to study all the time. Japanese high school is very, very competitive, so I did not do too good, but I learned a lot from that time. I was forced to become very independent.

» Children are very sensitive. If the parent is paying attention to basketball, football games, day and night, the children are going to pay attention to basketball, football games day and night. If you really want the children to pay attention to STEM and science, the parents and society have to change.

» My wife used to think that I act like a kid sometimes. It's true. Deep inside, I'm still that 6-year-old boy chasing the dragonfly and being totally impressed by the beauty of it.

Tags: Florida Icon

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