Alfred Redfield was one of the first people Henry Bigelow contacted when he began to recruit a staff for the new Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1930. Redfield was teaching physiology at Harvard Medical School, and eventually Bigelow struck a deal with Harvard’s department of zoology for Redfield to split his time as a Harvard professor and as WHOI’s senior biologist.
For the next decade, Redfield (along with several other WHOI scientists) devoted summers to research at Woods Hole and the academic year to teaching at Harvard. When the Institution received its first government contract in 1940, to study the nature and prevention of organisms that colonize the bottoms of ships (known as marine fouling), Redfield and his former student Bostwick “Buck” Ketchum led the project.
In 1942, Redfield took a year’s leave of absence from Harvard to become Associate Director of WHOI, an appointment that actually lasted for 14 years. His broad marine research interests ranged from plankton populations to tides—a plaque near the Redfield Laboratory entrance states his philosophy: Life in the sea cannot be understood without understanding the sea itself.
Redfield retired in 1956 but continued to write and publish until his death nearly thirty years later. Alfred Redfield was an ecologist before the term was coined, a highly respected scientist, and a contributor not only to this Institution but also to many national and international scientific societies. He also served such local groups as the town conservation committee and the Woods Hole Library.
Originally published: March 1, 2005