October 29, 1900–May 2, 1988
BY JOHN R. S. FINCHAM
STERLING EMERSON was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, the son of R. A. Emerson, the main pioneer of corn genetics. In 1914 his father was appointed head of the Department of Plant Breeding at Cornell, and the family moved to Ithaca. Sterling himself graduated from Cornell University in 1922. The same year saw his first scientific publication, a long paper in Genetics under the names of R. A. and S. H. Emerson on the genetic relationships of andromonoecious mutants in maize. Following graduation he undertook postgraduate work in the field of plant cytology in the University of Michigan under the supervision of Bartlett. He obtained a fellowship to work between 1925 and 1926 in Scandinavia, first in Lund and then Copenhagen. This visit was not as fruitful as it should have been because he had the misfortune to contract tuberculosis and had to go to a Swiss clinic to recover. But he was able to spend at least some time in the laboratory of O. Winge, later to become the main pioneer of yeast genetics.
Sterling's postgraduate work at Michigan was on the genus Oenothera, and his earlier papers contributed to the understanding of the Oenothera system of balanced segmental interchanges and its genetic consequences. This line of