Frank Silvestro, MA '68 & BA '62

Distinguished Alumni Award

By Barbara A. Byers

Release Date: March 20, 2012

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Frank Silvestro

Dogged by the economic realities of the time, Frank Silvestro is forever grateful for aid from the Wells V. Moot foundation, an assistantship from the UB physics department, the G.I. Bill and national defense loans for making his two UB degrees, and indeed his future, possible.

Upon completing his bachelor's degree, Silvestro joined Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory (CAL) as an associate physicist, at a time when research tools such as the ruby laser, IBM 360 computer and the scientific computer programming language FORTRAN were new. In his early work he focused on the development of optical computers that applied complex mathematical operators on two-dimensional data sets to obtain analytic results at the speed of light.

Ultimately, however, his interests evolved toward environmental issues. One effort sought diagnostic tools to remotely assess the vigor of living plants using multispectral sensor systems aboard aircraft or satellites. Analyzing the spectral response of plant cell structure and pigments (e.g., chloroplasts), he devised an application that revealed subtle changes due to disease or deficiencies. His paper was awarded as the "outstanding technical publication" in 1969 by the American Society of Photogrammetry.

Three CAL colleagues were also applying science to environmental issues, and the "gang of four" decided to parlay their mutual interests into a new business. They resigned from CAL and founded Ecology and Environment Inc. (E&E) in 1970 to pursue their vision of a better world.

At first the challenge was simply to explain the concept of "ecology" to prospective clients; fortunately enough of them "got it," according to Silvestro, and the firm gained traction. In 1974, under his leadership, E&E was selected to apply the Congressional environmental stipulations for the design and construction of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline System, the immense and controversial environmental challenge of the decade. It became the firm's signature contract.

Today E&E and its subsidiaries span the globe. Its broad multidisciplinary professional staff has completed tens of thousands of assignments in every ecosystem involving nearly every environmental health and safety issue.

Silvestro is proud to be an American as well as an alumnus of UB, stating, "This great nation truly provided opportunity to the son of poor immigrants. The analytic skills I acquired from the UB physics curriculum provided the means." As a way to give back to UB, Silvestro funds assistance grants for graduate students in physics.