Remembering Ralph Hardy

by | Aug 5, 2016

In Memoriam, Dr. Ralph W.F. HardyRalph W.F. Hardy, a pioneer of nitrogen fixation research and former President and CEO of the Boyce Thompson Institute, passed away peacefully on August 2 at the age of 82.

Hardy was the fifth person to lead the institute and served BTI from 1986-1995. Hardy aimed to ensure BTI’s long-term viability through careful management of the endowment, and through his forward-thinking adoption of molecular biology and biotechnology by the Institute.

“As someone who was fortunate enough to know and work with Ralph, I have immense gratitude for the opportunity he gave me by hiring me in 1989,” said current President and CEO David Stern. “Ralph gave me, and the other scientists in the nascent molecular biology program, freedom and resources to pursue fundamental questions about plants at a molecular level. The seeds planted by the molecular biology program are reflected in the breadth and strength of BTI science today, grounded in the vision and belief that molecular science would be instrumental in understanding and improving plant function.”

Hardy believed that BTI and similar independent research institutes had a duty to convey the fruits of their work to the public. He encouraged the faculty to pursue research with useful applications and urged them to disclose their work through patents. Hardy foresaw that a successful patent portfolio could fund future research, and his efforts are largely responsible for creating the institute’s thriving technology transfer activities. After stepping down as president, Hardy served on BTI’s Board of Directors from 1997-2006.

While at BTI, Hardy cofounded the North American Agricultural Biotechnology Council in 1988, and served as president of the group until his death. The council comprises members from agricultural and nonprofit research organizations and seeks to identify and address emerging issues regarding the use of biotechnology in agriculture, including sustainability, food safety and climate change.

In his own research, Hardy pioneered discoveries on biological nitrogen fixation, with the goal of increasing yields from crop plants without the addition of nitrogen fertilizers. Notably, he developed the acetylene reduction assay to measure the activity of nitrogenase, the enzyme that certain bacteria use to capture nitrogen from the air.

Before joining BTI, Hardy had a successful career at DuPont. He joined the company as a research biochemist in 1963 and rose through the ranks to become the Director of Life Sciences. He was instrumental in helping DuPont diversify its research focus towards the life sciences. When he left DuPont in 1984, he became the president of Biotechnica International, a biotech company in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Hardy received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 1960 and subsequently spent three years as an assistant professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.

Born in Lindsay, Ontario, Hardy maintained a century-old farm outside of Toronto until his death. Hardy is survived by his wife Jacqueline and his children, Steven (Jean), Christopher (Susan Wente), Barbara (Glenn Wygant), and Jon; and grandchildren Melissa (Oliver) Pycroft, David Hardy, Leah (Justin) Brophy, Tara Hardy, Laura Hardy, Ali Wygant, Allison Hardy, and Lindsay Hardy; and great-grandchild Isadora Pycroft. He was predeceased by his parents Wilbur and Elsie Hardy and his son Ralph Jr. He will be dearly missed by his family, friends and colleagues.

At the request of his family, gifts will be accepted by BTI in honor of Dr. Hardy.

Checks may be made payable to Boyce Thompson Institute and mailed to: Boyce Thompson Institute, 533 Tower Rd., Ithaca, NY 14853.

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