Meet an Outstanding UC Davis Doctoral Alumnus: Murray Isman

Meet UC Davis doctoral alumnus Murray Isman, who has just received monumental recognition.

Isman is listed as No. 2 among the world's top two percent of entomologists in a database announced by Stanford University with data from Elsevier's “science-wide author databases of standardized citation indicators.” 

Isman is internationally recognized for his discoveries and development of botanical insecticides and antifeedants, and for research in insect-plant chemical interactions and insect chemical ecology.

Isman, who received his doctorate from UC Davis in 1981, is the dean emeritus of the University of British Columbia's Faculty of Land and Food Systems and emeritus professor of entomology and toxicology at UBC. He's a Fellow of the Entomological Society of America (ESA).

A native of Vancouver, B.C., Isman received his bachelor's degree (1975) and his master's degree (1977) from the University of British Columbia before heading to UC Davis for his doctorate.  A postdoctoral position in insect toxicology at UC Irvine followed.  In 1983 he accepted a position as assistant professor in the  UBC Department of Plant Science, attaining the rank of professor in 1994. He  served as dean of the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at UBC from 2005–2014.

At UC Davis, Isman was the second graduate student of the late Sean Duffey. Faculty member Bruce Hammock, now a UC Davis distinguished professor, was a member of Isman's supervisory committee. "I think the last time I saw Bruce was in 2010 (also the last time I was on the UC Davis campus) when I delivered the Thomas and Nina Leigh Distinguished Alumni Seminar to the Department of Entomology," he wrote this week in an email.

ESA heralded his work in his 2014 Fellow biosketch: "Early in his career he became known for his thorough studies on neem insecticides and azadirachtin, helping to bring some clarity to research of variable quality, dubious claims, and redundancy. More recently he worked with a team to provide research and development support for EcoSMART Technologies Inc., propelling the company to become the world leader in pesticides based on plant essential oils. While Isman became an authority on the development of pesticides based on natural products, he maintained basic research on insects, with fascinating observations on insect feeding and oviposition behavior, insect memory, and the metabolism of plant toxins by insects." 

The biosketch singled out his teaching, research and public service, and his many accomplishments.  Among his many honors, received the Entomological Society of Canada's Gold Medal in 2011, the C. Gordon Hewitt Award (1991) for outstanding achievement by an entomologist under the age of 40, and the PheroTech Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014. In 2010 he delivered the Thomas and Nina Leigh Distinguished Alumni Lecture at UC Davis.

Murray presided over the International Society of Chemical Ecology (2002), the Phytochemical Society of North America (1993, he remains the only entomologist to have done so), and the Entomological Society of British Columbia twice (1988 and 1999). He also organized and chaired two conferences in Vancouver: the 14th Annual Meeting of the International Society of Chemical Ecology (1997) and the Fourth World Neem Conference (1999).

Isman related in the ESA biosketch that he enjoys "hockey, motorsports, contemporary and native art, and fine wine."

He still does. 

"I officially retired in mid-2018, but served as Interim Director of UBC's Wine Research Centre from mid-2017 until mid-2020," Isman shared. "I spend most of my 'professional' time now serving on editorial boards of three international journals, reviewing grant proposals and continuing to do some modest consulting to pesticide companies in the USA and Australia."

"My main recreational activity is playing ice hockey (twice a week) with different senior (60+) teams.  As a goalie, I hope to keep playing as long as my knees permit!"

He and his wife Susie have a daughter and a son. The Ismans will be in San Francisco for Thanksgiving to visit their daughter (a Columbia, UBC and UC-Berkeley alumna) and son-in-law (a Harvard and Oxford alumnus).

"I really should make a return visit to Davis on a future trip, something I suggested to (UC Davis distinguished professor and friend) Walter Leal."

Leal, who chaired the UC Davis Department of Entomology in 2006-2008 before accepting a position in 2008 as professor of biochemistry in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, is listed in the Stanford/Elsevier database as No. 22 among the world's top entomologists.

Other UC Davis entomologists on the list, in the order of ranking, are:

Elsevier. Elsevier, a global information analytics company that helps institutions and professionals progress science, advance healthcare and improve performance, published its "science-wide author databases of standardized citation indicators" on Oct. 4, 2023. The ranking of scientists is at It is a publicly available database "of top-cited scientists that provides standardized information on citations, h-index, co-authorship adjusted hm-index, citations to papers in different authorship positions and a composite indicator (c-score). Separate data are shown for career-long and, separately, for single recent year impact. Metrics with and without self-citations and ratio of citations to citing papers are given. Scientists are classified into 22 scientific fields and 174 sub-fields according to the standard Science-Metrix classification. Field- and subfield-specific percentiles are also provided for all scientists with at least 5 papers. Career-long data are updated to end-of-2022 and single recent year data pertain to citations received during calendar year 2022. The selection is based on the top 100,000 scientists by c-score (with and without self-citations) or a percentile rank of 2% or above in the sub-field. This version (6) is based on the October 1, 2023 snapshot from Scopus, updated to end of citation year 2022. This work uses Scopus data provided by Elsevier through ICSR Lab ( Calculations were performed using all Scopus author profiles as of October 1, 2023. If an author is not on the list it is simply because the composite indicator value was not high enough to appear on the list. It does not mean that the author does not do good work."

Scientists from China filtered the list to spotlight only entomologists. The list is at (See UC Davis news story)