Gary Alpert strayed from his career track, but at Harvard he found he could still do good research as well as make good money
BOSTON--When Gary Alpert arrived at Harvard 15 years ago as a graduate student, he was eager to pursue an academic career in insect behavior. Then the Pharaoh ant got in his way. Lots of them, actually. They were all over the place, running rampant through the biology labs and hallways and showing up in lunch bags and research preparations. Years earlier, the bugs had hitchhiked to Cambridge from tropical jungles, presumably stowed away in someone's luggage. They escaped, infesting the labs and thwarting all attempts to get rid of them.

"It was an entomologist's nightmare come true," recalls Alpert.

In desperation, he tried something unorthodox. Alpert borrowed an insect growth-regulating chemical from an endocrinology professor, and mixed it into peanut butter as bait. The ants carried...

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