Prairie Research Institute



The Prairie Research Institute was formed in 2008 when Illinois’ five scientific surveys were transferred from the state government to the University of Illinois. Thus PRI is both young – just a teen! – and older than the University itself, with its earliest unit dating back to 1851.

Timeline of the Prairie Research Institute

1851: An Act for a Geological and Mineralogical Survey established the office of the Illinois State Geologist and appointed G.J. Norwood to the position.

1858-1861: The State Natural History Society of Illinois, a precursor to the Illinois Natural History Survey, was organized and housed at Illinois State Normal University. In 1861, an Act to Incorporate the Illinois Natural History Society legally chartered the society as a tax-free institution with the purpose of completing “a scientific survey of the State of Illinois in all the departments of natural history.”

1867-1869: Benjamin D. Walsh served as the first Illinois State Entomologist

1895-1897: In 1895, the state legislature appropriated $5,000 to the University of Illinois, earmarking $4,000 to study the state’s water supply. This effort, which took place within the chemistry department, was the genesis of the Illinois State Water Survey. In 1897, An Act to Establish a Chemical Survey of the Waters of the State of Illinois appropriated an additional $3,000 and directed “chemical and biological survey of the waters of the State” in connection with the University, effectively establishing the State Water Survey.

1877: Section 9 of the Act to Establish a State Historical Library and Natural History Museum converted the Museum of Natural History at Normal into a state Laboratory of Natural History. The director was Stephen A. Forbes. In 1917, the Civil Administrative Code merged the State Laboratory of Natural History and the Office of the State Entomologist into the newly created Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), with Forbes as its first leader.

1905: From 1875 until 1905 there was a lack of political interest (and funding) for the office of the State Geologist. Then in 1905 the 44th Illinois General Assembly passed an Act to Establish and Create at the University of Illinois, the Bureau to be Known as a State Geological Survey; this act authorized appropriations for the resumption of geological fieldwork and named H. Foster Bain the director and de facto Illinois State Geologist. According to this act, the State Geological Survey was charged with the responsibilities to:

  • study geological formations of Illinois
  • prepare geological maps to illustrate state resources
  • prepare reports about state geological and mineral resources
  • consider “other scientific and economic questions…of value to the people” of Illinois

1917: The Illinois Civil Administrative Code established duties and requirements for the three existing surveys (INHS, ISGS, and ISWS):

  • To investigate and study the state’s natural resources;
  • To strategically plan for the conservation and development of the state’s natural resources; and
  • To cooperate with and advise other state administrative departments and other state and federal departments responsible for the state’s natural resources

1940: The Illinois Natural History Survey and Illinois State Geological Survey moved to the Natural Resources Building on Peabody Drive in Champaign. This building remains the headquarters for PRI, although the institute now has staff in multiple buildings on the University of Illinois campus and around the state.

1954: The U.S. Weather Bureau established a “state climatologist” in each state to help state agencies and university scientists with climate data and information. The first Illinois State Climatologist was Paul Sutton.

1956: After passage of the 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) began funding a program in archaeology, which eventually became the Illinois State Archaeological Survey. IDOT Administrative Memorandum No. 45 (June 1956) established a policy for the preservation of cultural properties found in proposed highway rights-of-ways.

1976: The archaeological “Resource Investigation Program” formally affiliated with the University of Illinois under the Department of Anthropology. RIP continued to work with IDOT on cultural resources investigation, excavation, mitigation, and preservation. Its mission was later broadened to include research and public outreach. It was called the Illinois Transportation Archaeological Research Program (ITARP) until 2010.

1984: The Hazardous Waste Technology Service Act required the Illinois Department of Energy and Natural Resources to create a “Hazardous Waste Technology Exchange Service Program.” This program, which would eventually become the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, was originally housed within ISWS. In 1989 it was renamed the Hazardous Waste Research and Information Center and became a separate entity within IDENR. In 1997, its name was changed to the Waste Management and Research Center. It adopted its current name in 2008 when it became part of PRI.

2008: University of Illinois Scientific Surveys Act transferred the surveys from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois. As an interdisciplinary institute at the University of Illinois, PRI plays a unique role in connecting state government and the University, bringing scientific expertise and data to bear on issues that impact the people, environment, and economy of Illinois and beyond.

2010: The Illinois Transportation Archaeological Research Program (ITARP) was renamed the Illinois State Archaeological Survey and became a division of PRI.

2013: The Scientific Surveys Act was amended to codify the inclusion of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey to PRI and to codify the existence of seven state scientist positions within PRI, adding the State Archaeologist, State Biologist, State Hydrologist, and State Pollution Prevention Scientist programs to the existing State Climatologist, State Geologist, and State Entomologist offices. The first full slate of state scientists included State Archaeologist Thomas E. Emerson, State Biologist Brian Anderson, State Climatologist Jim Angel, State Geologist Richard Berg, State Entomologist Christopher Dietrich, State Hydrologist Misganaw Demissie, and State Pollution Prevention Scientist Nandakishore Rajagopalan.

2017: On May 26, 2017, the Illinois House of Representatives adopted a resolution that recognized PRI for “excellence in research and development of practical applications and practices that help address multiple health, environmental, agricultural, and manufacturing problems facing Illinois residents and businesses.”

2019: The Medical Entomology Lab’s statewide tick surveillance program began in 2019, with support from the Illinois Department of Public Health. Tick collection methodology was based on Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for quantitative tick surveillance and was designed in consultation with the CDC. Surveillance sites are selected based on past suspected human exposure to tick bites and/or suitable environmental criteria.