Thea Whitman Appointed O.N. Allen Professor

Whitman-headshot-croppedThea Whitman, assistant professor of soil science, has been appointed to the O.N. Allen Professorship in Soil Microbiology. The professorship, founded in honor of the late UW-Madison bacteriologist Oscar N. Allen, is designated to help support a faculty member in the Department of Soil Science doing work in the field of symbiotic nitrogen fixation or soil microbiology. The 5-year appointment comes with an annual stipend to support scholarship and research work.  Thea joined the department in January 2016. Her research focuses on organic matter cycling and the molecular and microbial mechanisms that drive it, seeking to understand the processes that control soil organic matter dynamics and interactions with microbes and minerals. The work combines soil biogeochemistry and microbiology with bioinformatics, molecular work and fieldwork, in order to conduct fundamental and applied research with relevance for land-use management, agroecology, and climate change policy.  Check out Thea’s recent blog posting for information about Oscar N. Allen and his wife and scientific partner Ethel K. Allen (


Joel Pedersen’s (UW-Madison Bascom Professor of Soil Science) research involves studying the biological impacts of nanomaterials, including how these materials interact with cell membranes. Joel is part of the collaborative, multidisciplinary JAP-1research group that makes up the UW-Madison-based Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology.  His research was recently featured in the online eCALS news.  To view the full story on this intriguing research, visit eCALS

Award Ceremony Held

undergrads 2016

Left to right: Chee Thao, Kyle Kazmierczak, Daniel Dryer, Sean Fischer, Jacob Kruse, and Alfred Hartemink (Dept. of Soil Science chair). Not pictured: Logan Mohr and Durrell Naquin.

On Friday, April 22, the Department of Soil Science held an award ceremony for our Soil Science undergraduates.  The program started with a talk by Steve Ventura, who provided an historical context of Earth Day and the work of Gaylord Nelson. The award ceremony was led by Julie Garvin, who gave an overview of the student’s aspirations and interest in soils, and included a few wise words for their future.  It was followed by a reception in the Student Lounge.  Award Recipients are as follows:  Charles L. Ream Memorial Scholarship (2016-17): Daniel Dryer, Sean Fischer, Jacob Kruse, Logan Mohr, Durrell Naquin. Wis. Ag-Lime Association Scholarship (2016-17): Chee Thao. O.R. Zeasman Memorial Scholarship (2016-17): Kyle Kazmierczak. Charles O. Newlin Scholarship in Turfgrass Management (awarded in Feb for this current spring semester): Logan Mohr

Recently Published Book

Progress in Soil Science

Series Editors:  Alfred E. Hartemink • Alex B. McBratney

 Digital Soil Morphometrics

Alfred E. Hartemink • Budiman Minasny, Editors

This book is about digital soil morphometrics which is defined as the application of instruments and techniques for measuring, mapping and quantifying soil profile properties, and deriving depth functions of soil properties.  The book is structured along four research topics:  (i) Soil profile properties, (ii) Soil profile imaging, (iii) Soil depth functions, and (iv) Use and applications.  The pedon is at the heart of digital soil morphometrics.  The use of digital soil morphometrics exceeds the pedology and soil classification purpose that is currently serves – it is used in rapid soil assessment that is needed in a range of biophysical studies.  Digital soil morphometrics has the potential to enhance our understanding of soils and how we view them.  This book presents highlights from The IUSS Inaugural Global Workshop on Digital Soil Morphometrics held in June 2015 in Madison, Wisconsin, USA.

The Leo M. Walsh Distinguished Lecture in Soil Science

lehmannDr. Johannes Lehmann (Professor, School of Integrative Plant Science, Soil and Crop Sciences Section, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York) will present The Leo M. Walsh Distinguished Lecture in Soil Science entitled “Soil Organic Matter Formation:  Concepts and Controversies” on Wednesday, April 20 @ 3:30 pm in Room 270 Soils Bldg.

Abstract – Soil organic matter is a defining feature of soils and underpins much of its ecosystem services, influencing soil fertility, water quality and greenhouse gas emissions. Yet its nature and formation are still debated. Interactions of organic matter with soil mineral surfaces and aggregation are seen as key to its persistence, but have not been explicitly included in soil organic matter models. While pyrogenic carbon is increasingly recognized as an important component of organic matter in many soils, its mineralization does not match the time scales of litter decomposition to fit seamlessly into existing soil carbon models. The concept of humification is still propagated in the literature and research on humic substances extracts is in fact increasing in the environmental and water sciences. Consolidating existing concepts of soil organic matter cycles is therefore urgently needed, and this presentation discusses some recent evidence that may also inform carbon sequestration in soil as a way to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

A reception will immediately follow Dr. Lehmann’s presentation.  This lecture is made possible by the generosity of Leo M. Walsh and the Leo M. Walsh Distinguished Lecture in Soil Science Fund.

Sharon Long Receives CALS Award

long_md Congratulations to Sharon Long (Professor, UW-Madison Department of Soil Science) on receiving the 2016 CALS Equity and Diversity Award. The award will be presented at the CALS Awards Program on Wednesday, May 4. The program will begin at 3 pm in the Ebeling Symposium Center in the Microbial Sciences Bldg. and a reception will follow. Look for more details at a later date. We are very pleased that Sharon has received this well-deserved honor for her many contributions not only to the Department but to CALS and the whole university!

National Competition Selects Three Winners to Advance Water Entrepreneurship, Resiliency and Sustainability

barak_labNRU, Nutrient Recovery & Upcycling, LLC,, was one of three winners in the Empowering Opportunities in Water competition conducted by The Water Council (a nonprofit based in Milwaukee), the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, and Veolia (a global company specializing in resource management, including water). NRU is a spin-off company from the Barak Lab in the Department of Soil Science at the UW-Madison, with the goal of commercializing the intellectual property developed in that lab. The three principals of NRU are Professor Phillip Barak, Mauricio Avila (MS, Soil Sci., 1999; PhD, Soil Sci., 2004) and Menachem Tabanpour (President of NRU). This award recognizes a patented technology to recover phosphate in the form of brushite from wastewater treatment plants.  For more information on NRU, check out their promotional video.  (

Lithium Battery Catalyst Found to Harm Key Soil Microorganism


The material at the heart of the lithium ion batteries that power electric vehicles, laptop computers and smartphones has been shown to impair a key soil bacterium, according to new research published online in the ACS journal Chemistry of Materials. The study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin (UW) – Madison and the University of Minnesota is an early signal that the growing use of the new nanoscale materials used in the rechargeable batteries that power portable electronics and electric and hybrid vehicles warrant evaluation for their potential environmental consequences. The research team led by UW-Madison chemistry Professor Robert J. Hamers explored the effects of the emerging battery cathode material nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC) on the common soil and sediment bacterium Shewanella oneidensis. “As far as we know, this is the first study that’s looked at the environmental impact of these materials,” says Hamers, who collaborated with the laboratories of University of Minnesota chemist Christy Haynes and UW-Madison soil scientist Joel Pedersen to perform the new work.

See for the full article.

New Models to Study Nanoparticle Interaction with Cell Membranes

CoverIssueAn article by Melby et al. will soon be featured in the journal Environmental Science Nano. The paper focuses on the development of models for cell surfaces for the purpose of studying how engineered nanoparticles interact with organisms. The authors show that by incorporating domains differing in fluidity in model cell membranes (lipid bilayers), the attachment of positively charged nanoparticles is increased over the case where such domains are absent. The lead author is Eric Melby (Ph.D. candidate in Environmental Chemistry and Technology in Joel Pedersen’s group; M.S., Soil Science, 2010 under Doug Soldat). A lay description of the study can be found on their blog site:

Thea Whitman in Nature Communications!

Whitman2Our new soil ecologist just published a paper in Nature Communications, entitled “A dual-isotope approach to allow conclusive partitioning between three sources.” The paper describes a new technique to separate one biogeochemical pool (e.g., total soil CO2 emissions) into its three different sources (e.g., roots, soil organic carbon, and plant litter). The approach uses just two stable isotopes, expanding the range of possible questions and making it a powerful tool to help advance our understanding of element cycling in complex systems. Go to


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