Lois, 89, and Charlie O’Brien, 83, spent over six decades becoming two of the world’s preeminent entomologists. The married scientist couple amassed a personal collection of more than 1.25 million meticulously kept insect specimens—including their personal favorites: weevils (Charlie) and planthoppers (Lois). Now, they’re giving it all away, NPR reports.
The O’Briens are donating their vast collection, estimated to be worth $10 million, to Arizona State University (ASU) in hopes that it will foster further research that could have huge scientific value. The treasure trove of creepy-crawly pests doubles ASU’s current collection, called the Frank Hasbrouck Insect Collection, which consists of nearly 1 million specimens.
The O’Briens have also donated $2 million to ASU—the place where they first met—to endow future professorships with the sole goal of studying and identifying new species.
“The O’Briens have placed great trust in us as a research community,” Nico Franz, the Hasbrouck Collection’s curator and long-time colleague of Charlie O’Brien, told ASU in a statement. “And at the same time, it’s a responsibility for us to make sure this collection has the greatest possible impact in terms of research and mentoring for future generations.”
The donation will likely have the biggest affect on the agriculture industry, specifically on invasive species like Charlie’s weevils. ASU notes there are about 65,000 identified weevil species but that estimates put the total number of species at about 220,000. Different species of weevils devastated U.S. agriculture during the Dust Bowl by burrowing into plant stalks, laying eggs, and leaving the hatched larvae to scarf down the plant parts. They continue to plague farmers all over the world.
But just because the scientists are donating their life’s work doesn’t mean they’re getting out of the bug business.
“We work seven days a week, we used to work 14 but now we’re down to 10 hours a day,” Charlie told The Guardian. “We love it so much, even if I’m getting a little old for field work.”