Over the course of 60 years, Lois and Charlie O’Brien, two of the foremost entomologists and pioneers in their field, traveled to more than 67 countries and quietly amassed the world’s largest private collection of insects–a scientific game changer with more than one million specimens and more than 1,000 undiscovered species.
And now after decades of research and the development of a parental bond with their collection, these two soulmates decide to give it away. But they live in a time when the beleaguered field of science needs them most. And the O’Briens know they need to continue fighting for it. So they turn to their one million insects for a little help. This humorous and poignant documentary short explores the nature of Love–and the love of Nature–and what it means to devote oneself completely to both.
After Charlie and Lois O’Brien first met in an entomology class, she wanted to go collect insects with him but he turned her down. He was the teacher and she was the student, and he didn’t think it would be fair to her classmates.
Lois stuck with Charlie, and over the next six decades, they were partners in life, in the lab and on the road as they became two of the world’s top entomologists. They have devoted their lives to collecting and studying insects, and they created one of the largest and most important private collections in the world.
The O’Briens, who live in southern Arizona, have decided to donate their collection to ASU — a gift that will transform the university’s entomology research. They’re also endowing a professorship dedicated to insect systematics, the discipline of identifying and naming species, using physical characteristics, geography and other processes to improve the understanding of evolution and conservation.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a wonderful life as an entomologist, collecting with my husband, and I hope the students at ASU have as wonderful a life as we have had,” Lois said.
Now in their 80s, the two work on their collection every day, in their labs across the hall from each other in their house in Green Valley, Arizona. They live a short drive away from the place where they met — the University of Arizona, where Charlie was earning his master’s degree in entomology, and Lois, who had a master’s degree in chemistry, was working part-time in the entomology department while she pursued a teaching degree.