Ruth Patrick, a scientist with Kansas City ties whose research on freshwater ecosystems led to groundbreaking ways to measure pollution in rivers and streams, has died. She was 105.
Patrick, who received dozens of the nation’s top science awards including the National Medal of Science, died Monday at a retirement community in Lafayette Hill, Pa., according to the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University.
Patrick is credited with creating an approach that assesses the health of a lake, stream or river by evaluating the quantity, diversity and health of its plants, insects, fish and other organisms — not solely examining the chemistry of the water itself.
“Basically she demonstrated biological diversity can be used to measure environmental impact,” conservation biologist Thomas Lovejoy told the academy. “I call that the Patrick Principle and consider it the basis for all environmental science and management.”
Patrick also devised a tool to detect water pollution by measuring microscopic algae called diatoms. She is credited with being the first scientist to recognize that different kinds of diatoms prefer different environments and therefore can shed light on water quality.
Patrick was born in Topeka in 1907 and spent most of her childhood in Kansas City. She became interested in the natural sciences at about age 5.
She went on to study biology and received a bachelor’s degree in 1929 from Coker College in Hartsville, S.C. She received a master’s degree in 1931 and a Ph.D. in botany in 1934.
Patrick’s awards included the National Medal of Science, which she received from President Bill Clinton in 1996.
She advised President Lyndon Johnson on water pollution and President Ronald Reagan on acid rain.