Our History

Hasler Lab, Center for LimnologyCenter for Limnology – Hasler Lab Madison, WI

The Center for Limnology was founded in July, 1982, to plan, conduct and facilitate inland freshwater research. But, at the time, the study of limnology had been ongoing at the University of Wisconsin for nearly 100 years!
In 1875, Edward A. Birge moved from Massachusetts to Wisconsin to become, basically, a one-man biology department for the University. While fascinated by the crustacean, Cladocera, (often called the “water flea”) limnology wasn’t really on Birge’s radar until he began working on Lake Mendota. Birge discovered that each year, Mendota stratified into a warm, buoyant upper layer and a cold, dense lower layer of water. This process set him off on studies of other physical and chemical lake processes in what would become a pioneering career in our field.
In 1900, Birge was appointed Acting President of the University of Wisconsin. That same year, the Wisconsin legislature earmarked $5,000 for the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey and appointed Birge as director. Needing help in keeping his lake research going, Birge hired Chauncey Juday as a survey biologist.
The partnership between Birge and Juday lasted more than four decades and is credited with establishing the field of limnology in North America. In 1962, Art Hasler, who’d studied under Juday as a graduate student and risen in the rank to eventually direct the department) had what’s now known as the Hasler Limnology Laboratory built on the shores of Lake Mendota. Hasler brought the focus of the department toward experimental limnology, modernizing the field and cementing the University of Wisconsin, Madison as the epicenter for modern limnological research.

Cabins at Trout Lake StationTrout Lake Station – Boulder Junction, WI
In 1925, Edward A. Birge and Chauncey Juday founded the “Trout Lake Limnological Laboratory of the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey.” Thankfully, we now just call it Trout Lake Station.
The Station began operations on the North Shore of the lake and wasn’t exactly easily accessible from Madison. Only 20 of the 220 miles there were paved and the journey by Model T wasn’t exactly comfortable! Still with the thousands of lakes to be studied in Northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, most limnological researchers back in Madison knew Trout Lake was “the place to be” for lakes research.
In time, the Station would be relocated to the Southern shore of Trout Lake, where it sits today, but it is still widely recognized as a world-class research station and is used year-round by University of Wisconsin faculty and students as well as researchers from around the country and the globe as they head out on the crystal-clear waters of Northwoods lakes and explore everything from invasive species to water chemistry to the carbon cycle.

3 thoughts on “Our History”

  1. I’m just learning about the impact that Birge had also on S America. I’m a Madisonian that now lives in a city (Campina Grande, Paraíba – Brazil) known to have the first limnological center (long gone) to systematically study fresh water in this semi-arid region. The specialist at the time was Stillman Wright, Beloit College but has a Ph.D thesis (“Studies in aquatic biology,” 1928) on record at Memorial Library (http://search.library.wisc.edu/catalog/ocn228436619). I would LOVE to get somebody to digitize that thesis and forward it to me so that I could use it for the academics that continue work on water issues here and also see if he was a student of E. Birge. Any chance somebody in limnology can reguest it be digitized and then send me a PDF? Good chance that Stillman is the “father” of limnology here in Brazil.

    1. Hi Matthew,
      That’s fascinating stuff! Thanks for sharing. Regarding your request, this sounds like a job for our awesome limno-librarian Lori Steckervetz limlib@mailplus.wisc.edu – drop her a note and I’m sure she can point you in the right direction or help you herself. Good luck!

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