The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Fred Stormshak Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

December 22, 2015


Frederick Stormshak was born in Enumclaw, Washington in 1936, and raised nearby on his parents' dairy farm. A good student who was heavily involved with the Future Farmers of America, Stormshak was encouraged by an influential high school Agriculture teacher to consider attending college. In 1955, he became the first member of his family to do so when he enrolled at Washington State College.

Originally intending to study Agricultural Education and become a teacher, Stormshak's path changed during his sophomore year when he was invited to collect and analyze milk samples for a project in the Department of Dairy Sciences. Stormshak became captivated by the lab work and promptly changed his major to Dairy Science. During his senior year as an undergraduate, Stormshak took over a research project examining the levels of progesterone in the corpus luteum of the cow during the estrous cycle. This work served as the nucleus for his Washington State master's degree, which he completed one year later, in 1960.

From there, Stormshak moved on to the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he pursued his doctorate in Endocrinology under the direction of Dr. L.E. Casida, a premiere reproductive biologist of the era. While at Wisconsin, Stormshak focused on developing a method for measuring progesterone in blood sampled from domestic animals. He completed his Wisconsin Ph.D. in 1965.

In 1968, following three years in Maryland as a researcher at the USDA Cattle Research Branch, Stormshak joined the faculty of the Animal Sciences department at Oregon State University. Hired into a position that placed primary emphasis on conducting research, Stormshak developed a program of work that focused chiefly on the ovary and uterus of the domestic animal, with specific investigations conducted on beef cattle, sheep, and pigs. Within this, Stormshak was especially interested in the functioning of the corpus luteum, an ephemeral and short-lived gland that plays a crucial role in the reproductive process.

Stormshak also engaged in research on improving mink peltage through the use of melatonin, and likewise studied the impact of high voltage transmission lines on sheep, as well as the possible toxicity of cotton seed when ingested by sheep in large quantities. In addition, while at OSU, Stormshak established affiliate appointments with the School of Veterinary Medicine and the Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics, teaching a 600-level class on hormone action in the latter.

In 1996, Stormshak and a colleague initiated a new line of research that would eventually make headlines, and that continues to this day. Informed of a line of rams at a sheep experiment station in Idaho that exhibited no interest in female sheep, Stormshak and his colleague began studying a group of neurons located in the anterior hypothalamus of the male-oriented rams. The researchers found that these neurons differed in size from those observed in rams who exhibited heterosexual tendencies. From this, an NIH-funded program has emerged that continues to examine the potential biological bases for male-orientation in rams. The work subsequently became a source of media confusion and controversy, with various groups expressing concern about the ways in which the research might be extended to the study of sexual orientation in humans.

Named an OSU Distinguished Professor in 1997, Stormshak retired from the university in 2001. The recipient of numerous awards, Stormshak is also a past president of the Society for the Study of Reproduction, and has been recognized as a Diamond Pioneer by the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences.