Professor Emeritus, Department of Biological Sciences
1970 – 1987
Dr. W. Elwood Briles joined the NIU Department of Biological Sciences in 1970, beginning his long and laudable NIU career. His research has focused on the identification of blood group systems and their role in immunogenetics, health, and reproductive traits of poultry, and he is internationally recognized for contributions to genetics and disease resistance among chickens.
Through his research, Dr. Briles identified the relationship between blood types and other characteristics of chickens such as hatchability, egg production, egg weight, and livability. In addition, he identified the blood types of a variety of other avian species, including the Florida Sandhill Cranes, Siberian Cranes, Ringneck Pheasants, and two subspecies of Bobwhite Quail.
Dr. Briles’s interest in animal science started at a very young age. He graduated from the University of Texas with a B.A. in Zoology in May 1941 and married a fellow graduate, Clara Ruth Wilson, the following month. Soon after, Briles and his wife began graduate studies in the Genetics Department at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. However, the escalation of World War II interrupted their studies when Dr. Briles enlisted and served with the U.S. Army Air Forces at Amherst, Massachusetts, and Mitchell Field, New York.
After the war, Dr. Briles, his wife, and two young children returned to the University of Wisconsin, where he earned his doctorate in 1948, and his wife earned her M.S., both in Immunogenetics, that same year. Dr. Briles then became an Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University in the Department of Poultry Science.
In 1957, the family, which now included a third child, moved to DeKalb, Illinois, where Dr. Briles was Head of Immunogenetic Research at the DeKalb Agricultural Association until joining the faculty at NIU in 1970.
After retiring in 1987, Dr. Briles continued to teach and conduct research; he only recently stopped coming into the laboratory. Dr. Briles owns a farm in Sycamore and has donated eggs from his chicken farm to the local food pantry for over 35 years. His passion for poultry science and genetics has never waned. While at NIU, his research received funding totaling more than two million dollars from the National Institute of Health and National Science Foundation. To date, he has authored or coauthored over 210 publications, including 7 book chapters, 119 journal articles, and 90 abstracts in scientific journals or in the proceedings of scientific meetings.
Dr. Briles received numerous accolades for his work, including the Poultry Science Research Prize and the Merck Award for Research Achievement in Poultry Science. He is an Elected Fellow of the Poultry Science Association. In 2004, Dr. Briles and his wife were recognized for their contributions to avian genetics by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Dr. Briles’s monumental contributions to the field of poultry science helped elevate the national and international reputation of NIU, its College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the Department of Biology. He continues to serve as both role model and mentor, and the impact of his contributions will continue to be felt for decades to come.