Nault is internationally known for his work with insect and mite vectors of plant viruses and mollicutes, especially those infecting maize.
Nault’s fascination with insects began as a teenager and 4-H student when he collected insects near his home in Marin County, CA. He attended the College of Marin before transferring to the University of California, Davis, where he graduated with honors in entomology and parasitology in 1962. Nault earned his M.S. in 1964 and Ph.D. in 1966 majoring in entomology and minoring in plant pathology at Cornell University.
Nault spent his entire professional career, beginning in 1966, at OSU as a faculty member in the Department of Entomology and held a faculty appointment in the Department of Plant Pathology. At OSU he served as associate chair of the Department of Entomology, as associate director and interim director of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, and associate vice president for the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences before retiring in 2002.
His research spanned from molecular biology to field ecology. He took the lead in discovering some of the most damaging maize pathogens and identified their arthropod vectors and modes of transmission. His interest in vectors took him far a-field, from the discovery of aphid and treehopper alarm pheromones to his landmark studies on the evolutionary biology of neo-tropical leafhoppers.
Nault received many honors during his tenure at OSU including Distinguished University Scholar. He was elected as Fellow as well as Honorary Member of the Entomological Society of America. He also served as President of the ESA in 1991 and through his leadership, transformed the outdated Bulletin of the Entomological Society of America to today’s American Entomologist, the keystone publication of the ESA. He was also elected as a Fellow of the American Phytopathological Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Royal Entomological Society of London. He was also recognized by the USDA for his leadership in the early days of the competitive research grants program in insect sciences