LARAMIE, Wyo. — Read the following words from Alexandre Latchininsky and it's hard to discern which of the two favorite subjects — his science of study or preferred sport — he's discussing.
After all, both rely on a heavy dose of the cerebral.
"It's all about outsmarting, outwitting your opponent," he said. "... It's strategy, deception, tactics."
Professionally, Latchininsky, 54, a Laramie resident and native of St. Petersburg, Russia, is an associate professor/extension entomologist for the University of Wyoming, or, as he described it, a "bug guy."
A UW faculty member since 2003, he's also a consultant for the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.
"Basically, if you have a bug problem in your garden, you can bug me," Latchininsky said, a modest take on his work, which intersects with ecological issues caused by grasshoppers and locusts in the Western U.S., as well as Asia, Africa and Australia.
Away from campus, he's a decorated, gold-medal winning senior athlete in a sport with an international flavor — badminton.
October was a big month in the career of Latchininsky in the latter category, just as November is shaping up to be in the former.
On Oct. 15, the UW Badminton Club member and former player for St. Petersburg State University competed in the Hunstman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah, an event he's participated in for three years.
He won gold medals in men's singles and men's doubles and a bronze in mixed doubles. This year's showing brings his three-year total haul from the Huntsman to seven gold medals, a silver and a bronze.
But, it wasn't the results that meant as much to Latchininsky as it was who they were dedicated to — his father, Vsevolod.
Vsevolod died of an asthma attack in St. Petersburg on the exact day a year earlier, while his son was playing in the Huntsman. He was 78, the man who put a racquet in Latchininsky's hands when he was 7 or 8 years old.
"He taught me to play," his son said. "My medals are for him."
But, while his thoughts were with his father during the games, next month they will turn to science and the presenting of findings during a UW Faculty Senate Speaker Series event.
On Nov. 29, he is slated to present "The Aral Sea Catastrophe," which poses the question, "Is one of the world's greatest environmental disasters reversible?"
The drying out of the Aral Sea, a lake between Kazakhstan to the north and Uzbekistan to the south, is a "textbook example of the demise of an entire region through the unsustainable use of natural resources," Latchininsky wrote.
"Because of the diversion of water from its tributaries for irrigation, the surface of the lake shrank by 80 percent and the volume by 90 percent over 50 years," he wrote. "The emerged sea bottom became a 13-million acre desert."
He said the region around the Aral Sea became a "disaster zone."
Efforts are being made to improve the situation, he said, though progress is measured in increments.
"The lake ecosystem revealed a great resilience, showing signs of slow recovery," Latchininsky wrote. "The history of the Aral Sea illustrates that we can, with sufficient social humility, scientific knowledge and political will, recognize and fix our own mistakes, making the world a better place."
While Latchininsky is well-versed in the situation at the Aral Sea, it's a diversion from his regular areas of study.
In the U.S., he specializes in grasshoppers and their impact on 17 states in the West.
Each year, grasshoppers destroy at least 25 percent of rangeland forage, an estimated $1 billion annual pest problem.
"They interfere and compete with cattle for forage," he said.
"Our goal is to limit these negative influences of grasshoppers."
Latchininsky is president of the U.S. National Grasshopper Management Board, and earlier this year, he received an award in pest management for developing and delivering rangeland management strategies in the West.
Methods of grasshopper control developed at UW saved an estimated $11 million to Wyoming's agriculture industry in 2010, Latchininsky said.
Overseas, his focus turns to locusts.
He's traveled to more than 40 countries to study locusts and been featured on the Discovery Channel and History Channel.
Grasshoppers and locusts, he said, are a "big threat to food security worldwide," explaining one reason why his academic life has been dedicated to studying the insects.
That passion mirrors his enthusiasm for his sport, badminton, a game that's blossoming in popularity on campus.
"It's life for me," he said. "As long as I'm living, I'd like to play."
Latchininsky has been married to wife, Alla, who teaches piano at UW and at home, for 31 years.
They have two children, Marina, 30, of Orlando, and Alexandra, 25, of New York City, and a granddaughter, Isabel, 4.
Information from: Laramie (Wyo.) Daily Boomerang, http://www.laramieboomerang.com