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News : Entomologist Tom Turpin helps firefly pull Purdue into national spotlight

Entomologist Tom Turpin helps firefly pull Purdue into national spotlight
by Liz Schrader Journal and Courier

West Lafayette is on the move as the newest representative for Indiana on the side of U-Haul equipment.

About 1,200 moving vans will feature the West Lafayette name, as well as a graphic of a firefly and a fact about the advancements made at Purdue University into research of the firefly's glow.

The firefly-themed vans were introduced Wednesday by Purdue entomologists, West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis and U-Haul representatives. The West Lafayette-inspired logo is part of U-Haul's "Venture Across America" campaign that highlights little-known facts about each of the 50 states as well as Canadian provinces and territories.

"This is an important day for West Lafayette," Dennis said. "Having an iconic firefly image on these great trucks will attract a lot of attention and is one of the best ways to promote our town."

Tom Turpin, a Purdue University entomology professor, is creator of Purdue's Bug Bowl -- a festival centered on insect-related games and exhibits -- and is a pioneer in bioluminescence research. He said he was contacted three years ago by U-Haul to have Indiana's theme for their SuperGraphics campaign dealing with the Bug Bowl.

"The firefly was chosen to be featured because of its history in Indiana," Turpin said. "Entomologist Thomas Say was a pioneer in American entomology and the one to give the firefly its name here in Indiana."

Bioluminescence, or the conversion of chemical energy into light by organisms, has been used in cancer research, stem cell research and the creation of glow sticks and other safety devices. Many of the studies done on bioluminescence were begun by entomologists at Purdue.

Along with a giant firefly, the U-Haul graphic features a jar filled with fireflies and children running through a field trying to catch them.

"There's nothing more representative of Indiana than a firefly," Turpin said. "Everyone has memories as a kid of catching fireflies or watching their lights flicker on a summer night."

Turpin, who is also involved with insect educational outreach, said he hopes the firefly-themed U-Hauls will encourage kids across the country to get involved in science at a young age.

The U-Haul website will provide information and teaching materials about the firefly and research that's being done.