Ithaca, N.Y. — Cornell psychology professor Robert Elliot Johnston died at 72 last month at the Cayuga Medical Center after a battle with cancer, the university announced in a press release.

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Johnston. (Courtesy Cornell Chronicle)
Professor Johnston

A researcher at Cornell for over 40 years, Johnston studied animal behavior and its evolution.

“Bob was a wonderful and calm colleague,” said James Cutting, chair of the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts & Sciences. “He will be missed.”

A graduate of Dartmouth College and Rockefeller University, Johnston observed animals in their natural habitats in a variety of locations ranging from Africa to South America to Turkey, where he focused on studying the memory and communication of wild hamsters.

“Bob’s major discoveries were that even hamsters have and use these abilities – but do so using smell,” said psychology professor Timothy DeVoogd. “Bob was intrigued with how evolution has modified these abilities in different species.”

At Cornell, Johnston taught classes on evolutionary behavior and a course on “communication by odors in animals and humans, the sense of smell, and the neural mechanisms of olfactory communication,” according to the university.

In addition to his scientific work, Johnston enjoyed several outdoor activities — cross-country skiing, squash, ice skating, hiking, and dancing — according to the university.

Johnston is survived by his wife, Joan; two sons; and his brother, sister and uncle.

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A senior at Cornell University, Kyle covers the affordable housing crisis for the Ithaca Voice. Reach him through e-mail: